Female doctors are “better” than male doctors, according to a new study. Researchers from the University of Montreal have determined that while male physicians may be more productive, their female peers provide better care for their patients. The findings could be of significance for health officials and human resource planning at medical centers.

The study sought to determine whether gender affects the quality of performance among practicing physicians. For the purpose of the research, quality of care was defined as compliance with rules and guidelines. According to senior author Valerie Martel, the difference between men and women was surprisingly clear.

"Women had significantly higher scores in terms of compliance with practice guidelines,” she said in a press release. “They were more likely than men to prescribe recommended medications and to plan required examinations."

To assess the impact of gender on care quality and compliance, the researchers relies on the Canadian Diabetes Association’s (CDA) guidelines, whereby elderly diabetics are given three specific medications and biennial eye exams. Martel and her team were able to gauge compliance with these guidelines by studying the Quebec public health insurance board’s medical-administrative data bank, which includes detailed information on every performed medical procedure.

Female doctors were more likely to follow the CDA’s guidelines when it came to recommending medications as well as examinations. For example, 75 percent required their elderly diabetic patients to undergo the eye exam. For male physicians, the figure was 70 percent. Similarly, the recommended medication was prescribed by 71 percent of female doctors and 67 percent of male doctors. That said, men proved to be more productive, as they reported nearly 1,000 more procedures each year compared to women.

However, the researchers added that the results were based on averages, and that the differences in productivity and compliance diminished in younger age groups.

“My hypothesis was that the differences between male and female practices have diminished over time,” Martel explained. “It seemed to me that more and more men are taking time with their patients at the expense of productivity, and more and more women tend to increase their number of procedures.”

“This aspect was shown: the younger the doctors, the less significant the differences," she added.

While the findings could benefit human resource management at hospitals and clinics, Martel and her colleagues stress that further research and analysis is needed. For example, since inadequate care may cause patients to come back, the number of performed procedures may not be a reliable indicator of productivity. Instead, the most productive doctor may be the doctor who always spends enough time with her patients.

Source: Borgès Da Silva R, Martel V, Blais R. Qualité et productivité dans les groupes de médecine de famille : qui sont les meilleurs ? Les hommes ou les femmes ? Revue d'Épidémiologie et de Santé Publique. 2013.