Nov 29, 2023

Patients have lower health-care costs with female surgeons, study finds

Research, Faculty & Staff
Photo of Angela Jerath and Christopher Wallis
Angela Jerath and Christopher Wallis
Professors Angela Jerath and Christopher Wallis
By By Misty Pratt

A new study suggests that patients treated by female surgeons have lower total health-care 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, an independent, non-profit research institute.

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.

"It could be that managing potential complications following surgery will contribute to greater costs for male surgeons," says lead author Christopher Wallis, an assistant professor in the Temerty's Faculty of Medicine's department of surgery at the University of Toronto.

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 health-care system," says Angela Jerath, an associate professor in Temerty Medicine’s department of anesthesiology & pain medicine, and adjunct scientist at ICES. "We need further qualitative research to better understand behavioural and sociocultural factors that may underpin these cost differences."

"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," says Wallis, who is also a urologic oncologist in the department of surgery at Mount Sinai Hospital.

"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," Wallis said.

The study was supported by ICES, which is funded by an annual grant from the Ontario Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Long-Term Care, and the Data Sciences Institute at the University of Toronto.