Health Care

Study says women 32 percent more likely to die when operated on by male surgeon

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A recent study published to the medical journal JAMA Surgery indicates that when women are operated on by male surgeons, compared with female surgeons, they face about a 15 percent higher chance of adverse postoperative outcomes, such as readmission or complication within 30 days of the operation, and a 32 percent higher chance of death following the operation. 

Women in the study saw a decreased likelihood of positive postoperative results when the surgeons who operated on them were men.

Per the study’s findings, women were 32 percent more likely to die when operated on by a male surgeon rather than a female surgeon.

The study additionally found that women who were operated on by men were 15 percent more likely to experience adverse outcomes following surgery than women who were operated on my other women. The sex of the operating surgeon was not found to have any such impact on the post-operation outcomes of men who underwent surgery, however.

“These results are concerning because there should be no sex difference in patient outcomes, regardless of the surgeon’s sex. When a female surgeon operates, patient outcomes are generally better, particularly for women, even after adjusting for differences in chronic health status, age and other factors, when undergoing the same procedures,” said Angela Jerath, an associate professor and clinical epidemiologist at the University of Toronto in Canada and a co-author of the findings, according to The Guardian.

Jerath explained to The Guardian that she believes technical differences between male and female surgeons were unlikely to explain the discrepancies between the sexes, and suggested that “implicit sex biases” from surgeons who “act on subconscious, deeply ingrained biases, stereotypes and attitudes” may offer an explanation for the worse outcomes women experienced when operated on by men. 

Jerath added that she believes the way the female surgeons provide care when compared to the male surgeons may also explain the difference in outcomes. Female surgeons may have different communication and interpersonal skills when interacting with patients before operating, Jerath said to the British outlet.

“Having more female surgeons would improve all patients’ outcomes,” consultant orthopedic surgeon Scarlett McNally told The Guardian.

Compared to men, women overall were also shown in the study to have a 16 percent greater risk of surgery complications and an 11 percent greater risk of readmission, and to be 20 percent more likely to spend a longer time in the hospital.

The study looked at 1,320,108 patients aged 18 and older who underwent 21 common elective or emergency surgeries performed by 2,937 surgeons in Ontario, Canada, between 2007 and 2019. 

The study was done in primary partnership with Vanderbilt University Medical Center of Nashville, Tenn., and the Department of Surgery, University of Toronto in Toronto, Canada, along with other American and Canadian medical research centers. 

The confidence interval for the increased likelihood of death for female patients when operated on by men was 95 percent within a 1.02-1.13 percentage point margin of error and the confidence interval for women having an increased risk of adverse outcomes when operated on by men was also 95 percent, within a 1.04-1.09 point margin of error.

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