Women who undergo surgery are 32% more likely to die if their operation is performed by a male doctor, a study has found.
Research conducted by the University of Toronto revealed that female patients also had a 15% greater chance of a worse outcome in general when operated on by a male surgeon compared with a female surgeon, sparking renewed discussion over implicit bias in medicine.
The study, which analysed more than 1.3 million patients and nearly 3,000 surgeons, monitored the outcomes of 21 different types of common surgery, ranging from hip and knee replacement to complex brain and heart operations. Negative outcomes were defined as death, readmission to hospital or complications within 30 days of the operation.
It found that while there was no difference in outcomes for male patients depending on the gender of their surgeon, and no different between the outcomes for male and female patients operated on by women, female patients experienced better outcomes when performed on by a female surgeon.
‘This result has real-world medical consequences for female patients,’ study co-author Dr Angela Jerath said in a statement, per The Guardian. ‘We have demonstrated in our paper that we are failing some female patients and that some are unnecessarily falling through the cracks with adverse, and sometimes fatal, consequences.’
Jerath described the results as ‘concerning’ and ‘troubling’, adding that the difference could not be explained by technical reasons and both male and female doctors receive the same training.
Instead, she suggested that ‘subconscious, deeply ingrained biases, stereotypes and attitudes’ could be a possible explanation, as well as ‘differences between male and female physician work style, decision-making and judgement’.
According to the Royal College of Surgeons of England, 86% of senior surgeons in the UK are men, with women making up around 41% of ‘early stage’ surgeons. Consultant orthopaedic surgeon Scarlett McNally told The Guardian that there was ‘increasing evidence of a different experience for women surgeons, with many being put off surgery and reporting historical ‘microaggressions” from male doctors.
She added that women were often more comfortable speaking with female doctors, and more likely to follow advise to improve their chances of a good outcome.
The findings of the study were published in the JAMA Surgery medical journal this week.
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