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Do male doctors put hospitals at higher risk for malpractice than their female counterparts?

Do male doctors put hospitals at higher risk for malpractice than their female counterparts?

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In the current year alone, I have learned of three doctors, two of whom I personally know and one who was a year senior to me in medical school, being disciplined by the Medical Board of California. They are all men!

I thought nothing of this until I perused from the United Kingdom, detailing pervasive gender differences in rates of doctor misbehavior. The researchers collected many different past studies looking at different aspects of misbehavior or disciplinary action. Overall, male doctors were more likely to be disciplined by regulatory bodies; more likely to have “malpractice experience” (presumably, an accusation of malpractice, whether he turned out to be liable or not), more likely to be accused of a crime; and more likely to have their cases or complaints escalated to a regulatory body. Overall, they were 2.5 times more likely to get in trouble, and this hasn’t gotten any better even as women have become a larger and larger presence in medicine. It seems the boys truly just demonstrate —or are perceived to demonstrate — more bad behavior than the girls.

The study authors point out that women doctors generally work fewer total hours over a year than their male counterparts. This is rooted in reasons ranging from child rearing to specialty choice. Of course, the more time you spend in the office, the more chances you have to anger or dissatisfy a patient. Stress from these increased work hours (or more dire job responsibilities in fields over-represented by men like cardiothoracic surgery) could be factors in doctor misbehavior. Psychologists often comment on the link between testosterone and aggression in males, and this may be related to this phenomenon as well.

Disciplinary problems can result in increased costs for hospitals, from filling vacated jobs during suspensions to fighting expensive lawsuits. But even if a hospital hired all women, it would be no guarantee of a trouble-free environment. The current trend toward empathy and patient satisfaction, and training efforts is an important step towards preventing unhealthy dynamics in physician-patient or doctor-hospital relationships. To some degree, women are socialized to be agreeable and empathic, which makes it less likely that they will be sued or complained about. Men, on the other hand, are socialized to be aggressive risk-takers.

As a result, male doctors should be offered patient interaction and staff interaction training to reduce their legal risks while practicing. Doctor recruitment efforts should focus on candidates who have demonstrated their ability to be successful in stressful situations, and who do not have criminal records that raise concern for future misbehavior that could endanger the hospital. Ultimately, a hospital stands to gain much from a talented pool of doctors — male and female — that also stay out of trouble.

This post originally appeared on the Navigating the Healthcare System, published by the Law Offices of Stephenson, Acquisto & Colman. It is reposted here with permission.

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