Objectives: To measure the impact of physician gender on patient satisfaction, controlling for confounding patient variables, and to examine the extent to which differences in satisfaction with male and female physicians can be explained by physician practice styles.
Method: New adult patients (n=509) were randomized to see male and female primary care physicians at a university medical center outpatient facility. Patient sociodemographics and self-reported health status (using the Medical Outcomes Study Short Form-36) were measured before the initial visit, and satisfaction with the physician was measured immediately following the visit. The entire medical encounter was videotaped and physician practice style was later analyzed using the Davis Observation Code.
Results: Female physicians spent a significantly greater proportion of the visit on preventive services and counseling than male physicians did, and male physicians devoted more time to technical practice behaviors and discussions of substance abuse. Visit length was not significantly different for male and female physicians. Patients of female physicians were more satisfied than were those of male physicians, even after adjusting for patient characteristics, visit length, and physician practice style behaviors.
Conclusion: Patient satisfaction with primary care physicians appears to be influenced not only by patient characteristics and physician behaviors, but also by the gender of the provider. Possible explanations for this may be that psychosocial aspects of the physician-patient interaction are different for male and female physicians. Patients may also bring expectations about female physicians to the encounter, presuming them to be more empathetic, nurturing, and responsive.