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Annu Rev Public Health. 2004;25:497-519.

Physician gender and patient-centered communication: a critical review of empirical research.

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1
Department of Health Policy and Management, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Baltimore, Maryland 21205, USA. droter@jhsph.edu

Abstract

Physician gender has stimulated a good deal of interest as a possible source of variation in the interpersonal aspects of medical practice, with speculation that female physicians are more patient-centered in their communication with patients. Our objective is to synthesize the results of two meta-analytic reviews the effects of physician gender on communication in medical visits within a communication framework that reflects patient-centeredness and the functions of the medical visit. We performed online database searches of English-language abstracts for the years 1967 to 2001 (MEDLINE, AIDSLINE, PsycINFO, and BIOETHICS), and a hand search was conducted of reprint files and the reference sections of review articles and other publications. Studies using a communication data source such as audiotape, videotape, or direct observation were identified through bibliographic and computerized searches. Medical visits with female physicians were, on average, two minutes (10%) longer than those of male physicians. During this time, female physicians engaged in significantly more communication that can be considered patient-centered. They engaged in more active partnership behaviors, positive talk, psychosocial counseling, psychosocial question asking, and emotionally focused talk. Moreover, the patients of female physicians spoke more overall, disclosed more biomedical and psychosocial information, and made more positive statements to their physicians than did the patients of male physicians. Obstetrics and gynecology may present a pattern different from that of primary care: Male physicians demonstrated higher levels of emotionally focused talk than their female colleagues. Female primary care physicians and their patients engaged in more communication that can be considered patient-centered and had longer visits than did their male colleagues. Limited studies exist outside of primary care, and gender-related practice patterns might differ in some subspecialties from those evident in primary care.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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