Stream: Who’s Better At Playing Doctor, Boys Or Girls?

Stream: Who’s Better At Playing Doctor, Boys Or Girls?

The NBC News story “Female Doctors Outperform Male Doctors, According to Study” makes these bold claims.

Patients treated by women are less likely to die of what ails them and less likely to have to come back to the hospital for more treatment, researchers reported Monday.

If all doctors performed as well as the female physicians in the study, it would save 32,000 lives every year, the team at the Harvard School of Public Health estimated.

Yet women doctors are paid less than men, on average, and less likely to be promoted.

“The data out there says that women physicians tend to be a little bit better at sticking to the evidence and doing the things that we know work better,” [Harvard’s Dr. Ashish Jha, who oversaw the study] told NBC News.

The ordinary reader would assume female doctors are always much better than male doctors, and the reason is (partly) because male doctors practice medicine regardless of what the evidence dictates. Worse, they receive greater rewards for their foolish and dangerous behavior.

The NBC story drew from paper “Comparison of Hospital Mortality and Readmission Rates for Medicare Patients Treated by Male vs Female Physicians” in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine by Tsugawa, Jena, and Figueroa…

Here’s the conclusion (my emphasis):

Patients treated by female physicians had lower 30-day mortality (adjusted mortality, 11.07% vs 11.49%…) and lower 30-day readmissions (adjusted readmissions, 15.02% vs 15.57%…) than patients cared for by male physicians, after accounting for potential confounders.

First note the differences are small: e.g. 11.1% versus 11.5%. And then realize these are the “adjusted” and not actual numbers. Adjusted?

They mean adjusted using the statistical technique of regression modeling. It’s complicated, but everybody forgets that regression is an equation that describes how the guts inside a model vary as “covariates” or “confounders” do (these covariates are other possible explanatory variables). Those guts (which are called parameters) are not observable and do not make direct statements of what can be observed, like 30-day mortality. Hence, the researchers should only have spoken indirectly about 30-day mortality while also acknowledging the uncertainty that accompanies their statistical models…

Greater than 1,000 covariates!

Any statistician will tell you…

Even more intriguing, we also know “female physicians treated slightly higher proportions…

The prognosis is that you will click this link and then feel better.

Thanks to the many readers, such as Marcel Crok and Bob Mounger, who pointed us toward this study.

6 Comments

  1. I wonder if this suffers from the same sort of problem many other “studies” suffer from…claiming that a life was “lost” when in fact it means shortened by a trivial amount of time. Cancer patients for example might live a week longer and be considered to have “lived”…yet there is no meaningful change in outcome. And we have no way of knowing if it came down to a doctor offering up the hard choice and saying “I’m not going to lie to you, that extra time spent fighting for nothing in the hospital is going to make your last few days hell. If it were me, I’d take a somewhat shorter time spent at home with the people I love.”

    Maybe they are, maybe they aren’t, but it is difficult for a study to capture such things. And often such incredibly important choices get thrown under the bus, not unlike the way women’s choices are treated as unimportant by some in the well refuted “wage gap”.

    And of course none of this deals with the “adjustments” (not unlike sea level rise “adjustments” where there is no acceleration in any of the tide gages, yet there is somehow acceleration adjusted into the analysis)

  2. 11.5% vs 11.1%? While maybe “statistically significant”, no way the overall model error is less than 0.4%.

  3. They don’t mention that 30-40% of graduating female doctors drop out within 10 years or less of graduating. Think that might change the average a little bit? Ya, I think it might too. Here is my article on this topic.

    atavisionary.com/happy-heuristic-for-the-holidays-polarity-shift-1/

  4. If all doctors performed as well as the female physicians in the study, it would save 32,000 lives every year, the team at the Harvard School of Public Health estimated.
    Yet women doctors are paid less than men, on average, and less likely to be promoted.

    So the claim is that women make better doctors and are less costly. Wouldn’t this mean they’d have more patients flocking toward then? But, for some reason, they don’t.

    Doesn’t sound right. This is similar to claims that women are paid less in the workplace which makes one wonder why more aren’t employed as doing so would reduce cost. Another one of those, “Yeah! Sure!” things.

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