Sexist nature - is there a Rambo medical effect?
Do male patients prefer male or female doctors and does it really matter? Does it have an effect on treatment outcome?
We may all start off as female embryos in the womb but once the Y gene turns on the testosterone tap, our sexual differences develop. However, they are not necessarily set in stone, as has been proven through gender reassignment medicine. In health terms male and females are not born equal. Aside from the obvious differences such as breast and prostate cancer there are many other diseases that show a gender bias. Women are more likely than men to suffer from kidney stones, urinary tract infections, irritable bowel syndrome, depression, lupus, celiac disease, post traumatic stress disorder and multiple sclerosis. Men are more likely than women to suffer from type II diabetes, hepatitis, cirrhosis of the liver, liver cancer and high blood pressure. Men have a life expectancy of on average 5 years less than women and 90% of people aged over 110 are women.
Do we have preconceived ideas that a male or female doctor could be better or help us more? Perhaps we see male doctors as more knowledgeable and capable or female doctors as better and more caring.
Or are they just the same? It seems we are not immune to the differences and our stereotypical view of male and female is deeply rooted. Recent research showed that if a hurricane is named with a male name, it is assumed to be stronger and more dangerous that hurricanes with female names. People expecting a male named hurricane prepared better for the onslaught than for hurricanes with female names. In fact the strongest hurricanes with the highest death tolls of this century have been Katrina and Sandy.
There is very little research published on whether male or female doctors have better treatment outcomes. However a recent paper investigated the influence of counsellor characteristics on the efficacy of intervention for heavy drinking in young men and showed that experienced male counsellors were the most effective.
Could our stereotypical view actually be biochemical?
A research group working in Canada recently noticed that their animal research studies seemed to be giving skewed results. On investigating further they realised that the reactions of the animals were different dependent on whether the researcher carrying out the work was male or female. The animals were picking up on the male scent of researchers and reacting to it by showing less vulnerability than with a female researcher. The effect of the male scent changed results by as much as 36%.
If that is happening to animals in a lab, could the same be happening to us when we visit a doctor?
This leaves us with a question, is our ability to use our intellect and rational thought strong enough to overcome both the ingrained stereotyping and the biochemical effect? If not, based on the hurricane theory, Dr Rambo has got to be a good choice for your next visit. Based on the lab research model, a medical Mother Teresa would be a better option.