By Spy Uganda
A cohort study, published by the American Medical Association’s monthly journal JAMA Surgery, and conducted on more than one million adult patients in Ontario, Canada between Jan. 1, 2007, and Dec. 31, 2019, examined the surgical outcomes of patients who underwent one in 25 common elective or emergency surgeries.
The analysis demonstrated that at 90 days (three months) post-surgery, 13.9 per cent of patients operated on by a male surgeon experienced “adverse postoperative outcomes,” including death, readmission to a medical facility or post operative complications, whereas, within the same period, 12.5 per cent of patients treated by a female surgeon experienced adverse reactions post surgery.
Additionally, the study showed that one year post-surgery, those figures adjusted to 20.7 per cent of patients treated by female surgeons experiencing an adverse post-operative outcome, compared to 25 per cent of those treated by male surgeons.
The Ontario study also compared mortality rates within the same cohort, noting that 12 months post-surgery, 2.4 per cent of patients operated on by a male surgeon died within one year of surgery compared to 1.6 per cent of patients under the care of a female surgeon.
Dr Christopher Wallis, a urologic oncologist at the University of Toronto and Mount Sinai who co-authored the study, told The Guardian, “As a male surgeon, I think these data should cause me and my colleagues to pause and consider why this may be.”
A second study also published by JAMA Surgery focused on 150,000 patients in Sweden who underwent a cholecystectomy, or surgery to remove one’s gallbladder. The study, based on data from the Swedish Registry of Gallstone Surgery, was composed of 849 (33.3 per cent) female surgeons and 1,704 (67.7 per cent) male surgeons.
The Swedish study found that patients under the care of female surgeons experienced “fewer surgical complications” including bile duct injuries in elective surgery, while also having “significantly longer operation times,” per the JAMA study, than their male counterparts.
Additionally, the study found that female surgeons who operated more slowly, were less likely to switch from laparoscopic, or keyhole surgery, to open surgery, and their patients experienced shorter stays in the hospital post-care.
Dr My Blohm of Stockholm’s Karolinska Institute, who co-authored the Sweden study, claimed the findings suggest that surgical technique and risk-taking behaviours might explain some of the gendered differences observed in surgical outcomes.
“In some countries, there is a general belief that male surgeons are superior to female surgeons,” Blohm wrote JAMA Surgery. “Interestingly, most previously published studies indicate that female surgeons are at least as good as male surgeons, or as in this case even slightly better.”
Wallis claimed that while men and women differ in how they practice medicine, “embracing or adopting some practices” that are commonly used among female surgeons is “likely to improve outcomes” for patients under the care of male doctors.
“Since undertaking this work,” Wallis told The Guardian, “I have certainly done this personally and would encourage my colleagues to do the same: use this as a moment for introspection.”