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Bedside Manner Based On Gender?

Female primary-care doctors spend more time with their patients than male doctors and engage in more patient-oriented, emotion-focused talk during office visits, a study found.

The results suggest that gender differences noted in conversational styles also occur in the medical arena, researchers said in Wednesday's Journal of the American Medical Association.

Whether the differences have any impact on patient health is not known, but the results suggest that female doctors may offer "a relatively more health-promoting therapeutic milieu," health policy specialist Debra Roter of Johns Hopkins University and colleagues reported.

They reviewed and pooled results from 26 studies involving an average of more than 3,000 doctors and doctors-in-training. Included were internists, family and general practice doctors, pediatricians, obstetrician/gynecologists and medical residents.

On average, women doctors spent 23 minutes with patients, compared with 21 minutes for men. They also spent more time talking about health-related lifestyle and social issues, engaging in positive, emotionally supportive talk and involving patients in their care.

The exception was male ob/gyns, who spent slightly more time overall with patients than their female counterparts and more time in patient-oriented, emotion-focused talk.

Co-author Judith Hall, a Northeastern University psychology professor, said the gender-based differences "are a product of our society, but they are not unchangeable."

Patient-centered communication can be taught and both genders "can benefit from this instruction and improve their skill level," Roter said.

Dr. J. Edward Hill, a family practice doctor from Tupelo, Miss., and chairman of the AMA's board of trustees, said the study confirms "what we already know - men and women are a little bit different in their personal style. I don't think it has any bearing on the quality of medicine."

Still, he said the traits noted in female physicians are desirable and said many residency training programs try to teach better communication skills.

By Lindsey Tanner

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