Nuzzel showed me that my friends have been sharing a new athenainsight: Are male patients comfortable with women doctors? The post uses athenahealth billing data to demonstrate that male patients are less likely to return to female physicians than they are to male physicians, but for female patients the sex of their doctor doesn’t make a difference.
Athena’s conclusion is that men may be “less enthusiastic than women about seeing physicians of the opposite” sex. The article links to a Quora exchange, where all the respondents indicate that as patients they are equally comfortable with women as they are with men.
These findings are interesting, but I don’t think they tell the whole story.
When my long-time primary care physician retired I looked for a new doctor. I believe in the value of long-term relationships so wanted to pick someone I could be with for 15 years or more. I wanted someone affiliated with my preferred health system, with excellent clinical and at least decent communications skills, and around my age (late 40s).
My retiring physician recommended a female colleague in a practice close to where I live, who fit the bill. He had been involved in her training and had worked with her.
Like the Quora respondents, I was comfortable with being examined by a female physician. As I’ve written, I’m also comfortable being examined by a physician who is a friend.
But, although it was further down my list of criteria, I did have the sex of the physician somewhere on my list of factors. Why? Because at least on average, men work more hours and retire at an older age, making them more likely to be available to patients when needed. One survey showed that 44 percent of female physicians worked part time, compared with 22 percent of men. Another showed 25 percent of women compared to 12 percent of men.
My personal experience reinforces those statistics. The recommended primary care doctor works part-time. Other female physicians my family sees have taken time off to care for sick family members and attend to other family issues. One retired in her 40s to take care of sick parents. Working less or taking time off doesn’t make them bad doctors or bad people –quite the contrary, it may even keep them fresh or help them stay connected with patient needs– but it does have an impact on availability and longevity of the relationship.
In the end I chose the female primary care physician my retiring doctor recommended, and I plan to stay with her. But I’m also adjusting my expectations about primary care. For one thing I’m focused more on the relationship with the overall practice, rather than just with my personal doctor.
The practice seems to do a reasonable job of working together as a team, and I hope this will serve its patients as well or better in the long term than the more traditional and familiar one-on-one doctor/patient relationship. If it doesn’t turn out that way then my likely next step is to switch to a concierge practice rather than seek out a male physician.
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