Patients operated on by female surgeons had lower health-care costs: Study

a female surgeon with colleagues in an operating room

(photo by Chris Ryan/Getty Images)

A new study suggests that patients treated by female surgeons, across many different types of procedures, have lower total health-care costs than patients treated by male surgeons.

The population-based cohort study, published in JAMA Surgery, included over one million adult patients in Ontario who were undergoing 25 common elective and emergency surgeries between 2007 and 2019. The health and demographics data were linked and analyzed at ICES, an independent, non-profit research institute.

Prior studies have also found that patients treated by female physicians have better health outcomes than those treated by male physicians when it comes to mortality, surgical complications, re-operations and readmission to hospital after the surgery.

"It could be that managing potential complications following surgery will contribute to greater costs for male surgeons," says lead author Christopher Wallis, a urologic oncologist at Sinai Health and University Health Network who is an assistant professor in the University of Toronto’s department of surgery in the Temerty Faculty of Medicine.

Researchers Angela Jerath and Christopher Wallis (supplied image)

Costs for female surgeons were significantly lower at 30 days, 90 days and one year following surgery compared to those treated by male surgeons, according to the study. This corresponds to a relative cost difference of 10 percent.

"These differences represent potentially large savings for the health-care system," says Angela Jerath, a scientist at Sunnybrook Research Institute and adjunct scientist at ICES who is an associate professor in Temerty Medicine’s department of anesthesiology and pain medicine. "We need further qualitative research to better understand behavioural and sociocultural factors that may underpin these cost differences."

"There's also a need to improve recruitment and retention of female surgeons, as evidence shows dwindling numbers the higher up you go in surgical departments," adds Wallis.

"Creating more equitable and inclusive working environments would contribute to greater diversity and could have a positive impact on the health of patients undergoing surgery." 

The study was supported by ICES, which is funded by an annual grant from the Ontario Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Long-Term Care. It was also supported by U of T’s Data Sciences Institute, an institutional strategic initiative.

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