A new study reveals that 32,000 less patients would die per year if treated by female physicians compared to male physicians. The study, which linked 4 years of Medicare data for 1.5 million patients aged 65 and older to professional and demographic physician data from the online professional network Doximity, shows a significant decrease in patient readmissions and patient deaths after 30 days for those treated by female internists.

“We know from prior work that female physicians earn about 80 cents on the dollar compared to male physicians, but whether outcomes of patients treated by female physicians differ has never been studied,” study co-author Anupam B. Jena, MD, PhD, the Ruth L. Newhouse Associate Professor at Harvard Medical School. Dr. Jena has used Doximity’s data to study how physician characteristics influence patient outcomes and gender differences in promotion in academic medicine.

These new findings show that patients treated by female physicians experienced almost a half a percentage point decrease in mortality rate within a month of hospitalization, as well as a comparable drop in the chance that patient would return to the hospital. While these gains could be considered unsubstantial, these figures are akin to successful improvements in large scale national quality movements that have occurred over the last decade.

Researchers point out that primary care ‘female physicians are more likely to practice evidence-based medicine, perform as well or better on standardized examinations, and provide more patient-centered care.’ But, it is unclear if these characteristics led to the better patient outcomes witnessed in the study.

The authors acknowledge that a limitation of the study’s results is that they were unable to identify “why” these observed differences between male and female physicians occurred, and therefore could not link gender directly to certain outcomes. Rather, the hope moving forward is that additional investigation can uncover more specifically which care patterns account for these improved outcomes and how to best apply the learnings for the betterment of all patients.