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Patients have lower healthcare costs with female surgeons, study finds

November 29, 2023

'Large cost savings' are found for female surgeons compared to male surgeons, but more research is needed to understand why these differences exist.

A new study co-authored by Dr. Angela Jerath, a scientist and anesthesiologist at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre, suggests that patients treated by female surgeons have lower total healthcare costs than patients treated by male surgeons, across many different types of procedures.

Published in JAMA Surgery, the population-based cohort study included over one million adult patients in Ontario, Canada, who were undergoing 25 common elective and emergency surgeries between 2007 and 2019. The health and demographics data were linked and analyzed at ICES.

Prior studies have also found that patients treated by female physicians have better health outcomes than those treated by male physicians, including mortality, surgical complications, reoperations and readmission to hospital after the surgery.

Costs for female surgeons were significantly lower at 30 days, 90 days, and one year following surgery compared to those treated by male surgeons. This corresponds to a relative cost difference of 10 percent.

"These differences represent potentially large savings for the healthcare system," says Dr. Jerath, "We need further qualitative research to better understand behavioural and sociocultural factors that may underpin these cost differences."

"It could be that managing potential complications following surgery will contribute to greater costs for male surgeons," says co-author Dr. Christopher Wallis, an assistant professor in Temerty's Faculty of Medicine's Department of Surgery and urologic oncologist in the department of surgery at Mount Sinai Hospital. "There's also a need to improve recruitment and retention of female surgeons, as evidence shows dwindling numbers the higher up you go in surgical departments. Creating more equitable and inclusive working environments would contribute to greater diversity and could have a positive impact on the health of patients undergoing surgery.”

Media contact:
Samantha Sexton
Communications Manager, Research
Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre