Does Gender Influence Primary Care Quality?

Dr Kunal Patel 31 Oct 2018

With the celebration of the 40th anniversary of the Declaration of Alma-Ata just having taken place, which reaffirms the principle that health is a fundamental human right, it was in Kazakhstan at the Global Conference on Primary Health Care where a declaration was made.  This stated that primary health care plays a critical role in improving lives around the world.

To ensure we have strong primary care health systems, imbalances need to be addressed. These include the skewed financing and drive toward secondary care in certain countries to the lack of education and training and the differences in gender and race.

We know that education can make a difference, with numerous reports and research highlighting that innovative education methods can improve primary care workforces and ultimately systems. When it comes to secondary care and finances, that is another story with some research published recently showing that even money driving physician salaries and drug costs play a massive role in the lack of universal health coverage and high health costs in the likes of the US and elsewhere. Additionally, it has been shown numerous times that the pay gap between primary and secondary care is huge, even more so if a woman. Creating more depressing reading is that race plays a role, as seen below:

Image courtesy of the Medscape Physician Compensation Report

Taking race, specialty or gender out of it, these wages are still incredibly high, as highlighted by the study previously mentioned. However, some recent research has shown ONE benefit of these factors playing a role in health care delivery, namely the gender gap.

In China, newly published data looked at whether gender difference benefited performance in primary care. They looked at over 300 primary care providers and you know what was found? Female primary care providers prescribed fewer unnecessary or harmful treatments, including antibiotics, in primary care than male providers in rural China. Female providers were also 15 percent more likely to give appropriate treatment than male providers. What does this say about the difference in male and female practitioners? If this is the case elsewhere across the globe, with more research needing to be done, why on earth is there a gender pay gap?!! It makes no sense what so ever.

So, next time you visit your primary care physician as a patient, or as another health worker or a policy maker, maybe these differences, though overall causing a negative effect, are the things you must consider, for sometimes, they can be of benefit.