Female physicians more emotionally focused and 'patient-centered' when communicating with patients

Female primary care physicians spend more time with their patients and engage in more positive, social, and emotionally focused talk than their male colleagues, according to researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and Northeastern University. Their conclusions are based on a systematic review of previous studies involving physician communication and are published in the August 14, 2002, issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).

"Our review found that female physicians more often engage in communication that we would consider more patient-centered and broadly relates to the larger life context of the patient's conditions. They do this by addressing psychosocial issues through questioning and counseling, and more emotional and positive talk," said Debra L. Roter, DrPH, lead author of the study and professor of health policy and management at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. "Doctors are supposed to be considered doctors first, but we know that men and women communicate differently. The results are consistent with what we would expect in everyday life," added Dr. Roter.

For their review, the investigators searched online databases for studies relating to physician communication published between 1967 and 2001. Twenty-three observational studies and three large physician-report studies of length of visit were selected and statistically analyzed.

The analysis found that female primary care physicians engaged in significantly more partnership behaviors, which the researchers describe as actively enlisting the patient in medical decisions and equalizing the status between doctor and patient. Six out of 12 studies reviewed showed significantly higher levels of active partnership enlistment on the part of female doctors, while two showed the reverse.

Other studies reviewed showed female physicians engaged in significantly more positive talk, psychosocial question asking and counselin

Contact: Laura Schmidt
Northeastern University

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