Patients tend to listen more to female doctors

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Women are more likely to heed guidance on nutrition, exercise and weight loss when it comes from doctors who are female, rather than male, a new study suggests.

The research also found that patients, regardless of gender, more readily tuned into advice about nutrition and exercise from female physicians.

Dr. Anne-Cecile Schieber, from the University of Toulouse III in Toulouse, France, led a team that examined how gender influenced the relationship between 585 patients and 27 general-practice doctors in three regions in France.

The researchers hypothesized that patients might be more inclined to trust doctors of the same gender. But the findings indicate that interpersonal skills may play more of a role than gender in promoting physician-patient trust.

"We think it's more about communications training then it is about hiring practices," research scientist Julie Schmittdiel told Reuters Health. "It's not about gender so much as it's about communication and enhancing communication."

Schmittdiel has done similar studies for the Kaiser Permanente Northern California Division of Research. She was not involved with the current analysis.

The new study suggests that some male doctors could learn a thing or two from female physicians, at least when it comes to dispensing advice on nutrition and exercise.

Researchers independently asked adult patients and their doctors the same set of questions immediately after office visits. Questions included information and advice given about weight, physical activity and nutrition.

Female doctors and both their male and female patients tended to agree about the advice on nutrition, exercise and weight-loss, according to the study published in Family Practice.

Men with male doctors were nearly four times more likely than men with female doctors to disagree with them about nutrition, the study found. And men with male doctors were twice as likely to disagree with them as with female doctors about exercise, the researchers found.

The only place where male doctors performed as well as their female colleagues was in counseling about weight loss with male patients. Regardless of the gender of the physician, 91 percent of male patients agreed with their doctors on weight-loss advice, the study found.

Female patients with female doctors agreed with their physician's weight-loss advice 93 percent of the time. But female patients with male doctors agreed only 85.5 percent of the time, the study says.

"Training medical students and doctors on delivering information, showing respect, supporting patient involvement, gaining social and cultural competence, supporting self-reflection and self-awareness, and developing skills, capacities and capabilities to perceive existing gender differences and on incorporating these into their decisions and actions could help them to provide higher quality of care to each patient, irrespective of their gender," the study concludes.

Based on prior research, the authors suggest that female doctors may be more collaborative with patients, and male doctors may be more dominant.

Earlier studies have shown that women doctors report feeling more comfortable discussing personal and sensitive issues than their male counterparts do, the authors write. They say previous studies also found that women physicians are more likely to involve patients in decision-making and to consult in a warmer, more patient-centered manner.

"Clearly, we all bring our backgrounds and social context with us into physician visits with us - whether we're the patient or the provider, or whether we're men or women - and that can affect the outcome of the visit," Schmittdiel said.

"Enhancing the physicians' ability to communicate effectively can make a more productive visit and lead to improved outcomes," she said.

Schieber was unable to respond to a request for comment by deadline.

SOURCE: Family Practice, online September 11, 2014.