Female Patients Are 32% More Likely To Die After Operation By A Male Surgeon

·3-min read
Photo credit: Portra Images - Getty Images
Photo credit: Portra Images - Getty Images

A study, published in the medical journal JAMA Surgery, found that women are more likely to die from a surgical operation performed by a man.

As well as female patients being found to have 15 per cent more chance of experiencing a poor outcome following a procedure with a male surgeon, the study also revealed, shockingly, that female patients are 34% more likely to die as a result.

A negative outcome can include death or being readmitted to hospital and experiencing severe complications within 30 days of having the procedure, all of which were examined in the study.

Taking into account as many as 1.3 million patients, this research has understandably caused uproar, especially considering that men still occupy the majority of roles in medicine.

The Guardian reported that 'explicit biases' in the field of UK surgery have offered possible explanation for why female patients are at greater risk when undergoing an operation.

Fiona Myint, vice-president of the Royal College of Surgeons of England, told the news outlet that 86% of senior surgeons in Britain are men.

Photo credit: Getty Images
Photo credit: Getty Images

Contrastingly, women make up just under half of that figure among newly qualified surgeons, with this amount plummeting dramatically, to a mere 14%, for those at consultant level.

Dr Angela Jerath, co-author of the findings and an associate professor and clinical epidemiologist at the University of Toronto in Canada, has said: 'This result has real-world medical consequences for female patients and manifests itself in more complications, readmissions to hospital and death for females compared with males.

'We have demonstrated in our paper that we are failing some female patients and that some are unnecessarily falling through the cracks with adverse, and sometimes fatal, consequences.'

Of the study that analysed over a million patients' records, who had 21 typical surgical procedures, carried out by close to 3,000 surgeons between 2007 and 2019, Jerath went on to say: 'These results are concerning because there should be no sex difference in patient outcomes regardless of the surgeon’s sex.

'On a macro level the results are troubling. 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.'

The research examined common surgeries including weight loss, the removal of an appendix, heart bypass and brain surgery, amongst others.

It's been noted that explanations for the findings could be to do with surgeons' 'subconscious, deeply ingrained biases, stereotypes and attitudes', as well as contrasting physician work style and decision-making between male and female surgeons, rather than technical variations.

Limited flexibility in relation to training schedules is said to be one of the factors determining gender imbalance in the industry.

While the outcome of a woman's surgery can vary significantly depending on whether she has a male or female surgeon, when it comes to men, the outcome of their surgery is the same, whether their surgeon is male or female.

Photo credit: Getty Images
Photo credit: Getty Images

Still, Jerath acknowledges: 'There are some excellent male surgeons who consistently have good outcomes, what is concerning is that this analysis does signal some real difference among male and female surgeons overall where practice can impact general patient outcomes,' said Jerath.

Consultant orthopaedic surgeon Scarlett McNally also said: 'Having more female surgeons would improve all patients’ outcomes.'

As well as the issues surrounding female patients post-surgery, previous studies have also shown women to be disadvantaged with regards to seeking medical attention in general.

In 2018, the BBC reported on studies suggesting as much as 30 to 50 per cent of women diagnosed with depression were misdiagnosed. Addressing the health gap, the same outlet highlighted women are more likely to wait longer for a health diagnosis due to the notion of their concerns being 'all in their heads'.

As well, Endometriosis, a condition affecting one in 10 women that can cause infertility, typically takes a staggering seven and a half years to be diagnosed.

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