One of the great advantages of now having self propelling children is that I can go to conferences that rekindle my interest in more general professional topics. I just attended a meeting sponsored by the Society for Women’s Health Research on the topic of adherence to medication—what in the not so distant past was called compliance. Improving adherence to medical advice offers great promise as a strategy for reducing health care costs. And I was delighted to find that women physicians already excel in this area.
At the meeting I learned about a big review article (Roter, Hall and Aoki, Physician Gender Effects in Medical Communication: A Meta-analytic Review, JAMA 288:6 756-64)that showed that women physicians, at least those in primary care, spend more time with patients (10% longer visits—an average of only 2 minutes more per encounter). The researchers found women were better at enlisting patients as partners in their care, asking about the social context of illness, and focusing on emotion. I remember, still indignantly, being scolded by a resident for spending too much time “chatting” with patients on rounds. This study—a meta-analysis, please note-- firmly laid that shibboleth to rest. The extra time we spend with patients is not merely social conversation. Women use time with patients well, conveying medical information as thoroughly as male physicians. While the effect on medical outcomes was not reported, other people at the meeting provided compelling data that communication promotes adherence, and adherence promotes health and lowers costs.
These data are something we can all be proud of. I confess I would love to go back to my obnoxious resident and say it out loud: “So there !”