Background: Studies of the effects of physician gender on patient care have been limited by selected samples, examining a narrow spectrum of care, or not controlling for important confounders. We sought to examine the role of physician and patient gender across the spectrum of primary care in a nationally representative sample, large enough to examine the role of gender concordance and adjust for confounding variables.
Methods: We examined the relationships between physician and patient gender using nationally representative samples (the U. S. National Ambulatory Medical Care Surveys from 1985 to 1992) of encounters of 41,292 adult patients with 1470 primary care physicians (internists, family physicians, and obstetrician/gynecologists). Factors examined included physician (age, gender, region, rural location), patient (age, gender, race, insurance), and visit characteristics (diagnoses, gender-specific and nonspecific prevention, duration, continuity, and disposition).
Results: After multivariate adjustment, female physicians were more likely to see female patients, had longer visit durations, and were more likely to perform female prevention procedures and make some follow-up arrangements and referrals. Female physicians were slightly more likely to check patients blood pressure, but there were no significant differences in other nongender-specific prevention procedures or use of psychiatric diagnoses. Among encounters without breast or pelvic examinations, visit length was not related to physician gender, but length was longer in gender concordant visits than gender-discordant visits.
Conclusions: Female physicians were more likely to deliver female prevention procedures, but few other physician gender differences in primary care were observed. Physician-patient gender concordance was a key determinant of encounters.