Women doctors in ICUs biased against women patients, Researchers find

Researchers found that male and female physicians selected critically ill patients differently when they initiated treatment in the emergency department.

February 7, 2018 17:07
1 minute read.

SURGEONS OPERATE at Soroka-University Medical Center in Beersheba.. (photo credit: Courtesy)


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Female doctors in hospital emergency rooms are less likely to admit women patients to intensive-care units than to admit men, according to researchers at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev and Soroka- University Medical Center in Beersheba.

This finding on gender bias, which has just been published in QJM: An International Journal of Medicine, apparently takes place most often when female doctors consider treatment for critically ill women.

“Previous studies show physicians are less likely to recognize symptoms that present differently in women, such as atypical chest pains, which can alter patient management and postpone delivery of crucial treatment,” said Dr. Iftach Sagy, a researcher at Soroka’s Clinical Research Center and a lecturer at the BGU’s Faculty of Health Sciences. “For the first time, we’ve demonstrated that a possible gender bias can influence decisions about who should be admitted to an ICU.”

BGU’s study was able to demonstrate that both patient and physician genders, as well as their combination, are key factors in making clinical decisions that determine level of care. “More research is needed to address the potential consequences of clinical decisions biased by patient and physician genders,” Sagy said.

The study, which looked at 831 patients admitted to the resuscitation room in Soroka’s emergency department in 2011 to 2012, showed female physicians treating women were less likely to admit their patients to the hospital’s ICU, where beds and other resources are limited.

According to the findings, female physicians admitted approximately 20% fewer of their female patients to the ICU than did male physicians, and 12% fewer female patients than male patients to the intensive cardiac care unit.

Researchers found that male and female physicians selected critically ill patients differently when they initiated treatment in the emergency department. Male physicians treated a greater number of patients transferred by emergency medical services, while female physicians treated more who initially presented as stable before deteriorating and requiring resuscitation.

“Current studies on the outcomes of critically ill patients show better outcomes for men,” concluded Sagy. “Women often have less-invasive procedures in both the emergency department and the ICU, which seems to contribute to a lower rate of ICU admission compared to men with the same illness level.”

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