The question of whether a doctor’s gender impacts a patient’s treatment outcome is not a new one.
For instance, a systematic review and meta-analysis published in the Journal of Health Services Research & Policy in July of 2013 looked at this very same issue. And, after reviewing and analyzing 33 different studies, researchers concluded that, though there were some conflicting results, female doctors tended to have “greater patient engagement.”
This increased patient participation was attributed to the finding that, on average, female physicians spend almost two-and-a-half more minutes with each patient than their male counterparts. This factor alone made them more patient-centered, but also, over time, would lower the number of patients they would be able to see because their consultation times were longer.
Another study, this one published in Family Practice in September of 2014, looked at whether doctor gender affects a patient’s level of agreement with advice being given by the health care provider. Specifically, researchers reviewed physician-provided advice related to three key areas: nutrition, exercise and weight loss.
After studying 27 general practitioners and 585 patients, it was determined that both male and female patients who saw female doctors had lower levels of disagreement in these areas when compared to male patients with male doctors.
The one exception was in relation to weight loss as “the probability of disagreement was significantly increased” when the patient was female and the doctor was male.
While studies like these can help shed some light on how the gender of a health care professional can impact the doctor-patient relationship, one newly released study set out to discover whether the gender of DCs specifically affects patient outcome. Results were published in the July-August, 2017 edition of the Journal of Manipulative and Physiological Therapeutics.
DC gender and patient outcome
In this study, three researchers from the University of Zürich and University Hospital Balgrist in Switzerland recruited 1095 patients who had not participated in chiropractic treatment for at least the previous three months. Each was assessed prior to the study to ascertain their pain levels and the severity of their disability.
For purposes of the study, it was also noted whether patients were treated by male or female DCs. Subsequently, their pain levels were reassessed at one week, one month, three month, six month and 12 month marks. Disability was reassessed after three months.
Researchers found that, at the one week, three month and 12 month timeframes, female DCs not only had a higher number of acute patients, but they also a higher number of patients report that their condition had improved. They also had more decreases in the amount of pain and disability their patients experienced after just one week of treatment than the patients being treated by male DCs.
While this may be good news for female DCs in that their results appeared to be better, researchers were also quick to note that once they took data for the acute patients out of the study, this advantage seemed to disappear. In this case, patients of both male and female DCs experienced similar outcomes.
This caused researchers to conclude that “patient outcome is influenced by other factors,” and not necessarily whether the DC is male or female. One of the other factors suggested include the fact that patients with acute issues tend to feel better at a faster rate when compared to patients with issues that are more chronic in nature, thus accounting for some of the differences.
Patient outcomes are complex
Though this particular study ultimately found no real difference in patient outcomes based on DC gender, it serves as a great reminder that patient outcome as a whole is a complex issue that can be impacted by a number of factors, some of which we might not readily recognize, such as the fact that female DCs may see more acute patients.
Plus, as the researchers also point out, the quality of communication between DCs and their patients will largely determine how satisfied a patient is with his or her care, regardless of the gender of the DC. Thus, communicating effectively with all of your patients—both male and female alike—can impact how well they feel you’re able to help them with their various musculoskeletal issues, conditions, and needs.
That makes this one area for male and female DCs both to concentrate their efforts as talking with patients is still key.