Source: The Mercury, Thursday, May 23, 1996, p.3
MALE doctors are likely to give a different diagnosis to female doctors- even when patients' symptoms are the same, a new study shows. The Sydney University study of Australian general practitioners found femme doctors will tend to diagnose more pyschological and social problems than men. The world-first study extrapolated data from 113,000 consultations across the nation. The main author of the study, psychologist Dr Helena Britt of the university's family medicine research unit, said male doctors tended to diagnose muscular-skeletal and respiratory problems. "If you visit a female GP, you are more likely to be diagnosed with a pyschological problem, such as depression, which so many of us suffer, and not necessarily to a clinical degree," she said. "They are also likely to inquire about social problems and stresses caused by marriage and children. "Why this is so, we are not sure." The study has used odds ratios to show women doctors were 1:15 times more likely to diagnose social problems than male doctors "If you expand that over the 96 million cases GPs see each year, it is quite significant," she said. Other studies around the world had shown that female patients tended to see female doctors and male patients male doctors. "It has always been assumed that doctors will diagnose differently because of the patients they are presented with, but it is just not true, she said. The study found women doctors tended to treat psychological and social problems as well as the female genital and repro- ductive systems. Male GPs treated more male genital, skin and respiratory problems, as well as muscular-skeletal and circulatory complaints. This was largely because of patient choice, but Dr Britt said if doctors continued to concentrate on specific problems, there WAS a danger they could be lacking experience in some areas. "It could get to the stage where they are so inexperienced in treating certain things they just refer it to another doctor. "The question we have to ask is 'do we want that?' "At the moment, 30% of Australian GPs are female, and it is likely to soon be 50%, " she add. Dr Britt said she was keen to examine further why doctors diagnosed differently, but was hampered by lack of suitable data. The study has been published in the American Journal Medical Care.
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