Background: As the number of women in medicine and the emphasis on prevention and primary care increase in the United States, it is important to know the extent to which female and male physicians advise patients about prevention. It is also important to know whether any gender-based differences are attributable to women's higher rates of choosing primary care specialties. Prior studies have examined only small populations of physicians, limited physician specialties, or few prevention-related outcomes.
Methods: Telephone survey from a systematic random sample of the Physician Masterfile maintained by the American Medical Association. One thousand US physicians (167 women and 833 men); a 48% response rate. Self-reported frequency with which physicians review patients' health behaviors and initiate counseling about unhealthy behaviors.
Results: Of the surveyed physicians, 44% stated that they always reviewed the patient health behaviors in question, and 36% usually systematically counseled patients when unhealthy behaviors were known. Female physicians were significantly more likely than were male physicians to report systematic counseling about unhealthy behaviors (52% vs 37.8%, P < .001, chi 2). We also analyzed our data by adjusting for age and including only family and general physicians and internists. After these adjustments, gender-based differences remained in the direction of female physicians being more likely than male physicians to report reviewing patients' health practices and providing systematic counseling, although these differences no longer reached statistical significance. Gender-related differences were greatest for more sensitive behaviors (ie, drug use and sexual behaviors). Primary care physicians were more likely than other physicians to review and counsel patients about health behaviors. This specialty-based difference was more significant among male than among female physicians.
Conclusions: In this random sample, although all physicians counseled patients inconsistently about prevention, female physicians reported systematically counseling patients more than did male physicians, and primary care physicians reviewed and counseled more often than did physicians in other specialties.