Patients treated by women are less likely to die of what ails them and less likely to have to come back to the hospital for more treatment, researchers reported Monday.Thus does NBC summarize the paper "Comparison of Hospital Mortality and Readmission Rates for Medicare Patients Treated by Male vs Female Physicians" by Yusuke Tsugawa, MD, MPH, PhD; Anupam B. Jena, MD, PhD; Jose F. Figueroa, MD, MPH; et al.
If all doctors performed as well as the female physicians in the study, it would save 32,000 lives every year, the team at the Harvard School of Public Health estimated.
(I wish I knew who Et Al. was. Gets his name on a lot of papers, it seems.)
NBC "News" tells us
“The data out there says that women physicians tend to be a little bit better at sticking to the evidence and doing the things that we know work better.”Apparently male doctors practice medicine regardless of what the evidence dictates. Worse, they are paid more for their foolish and dangerous behavior.
Alas, Tsugawa and his co-authors did not actually measure how doctors practiced. So even if the 30-day mortality and readmission rates differed between male and female doctors, the researchers had no way of knowing why they differed; and ipso facto neither would NBC. Someone was blowing smoke because the newsmog cannot abide a story that doesn't give a paradigm-conforming reason. Sticking to the evidence? Forsooth..
Design, Setting, and Participants We analyzed a 20% random sample of Medicare fee-for-service beneficiaries 65 years or older hospitalized with a medical condition and treated by general internists from January 1, 2011, to December 31, 2014. We examined the association between physician sex and 30-day mortality and readmission rates, adjusted for patient and physician characteristics and hospital fixed effects (effectively comparing female and male physicians within the same hospital). As a sensitivity analysis, we examined only physicians focusing on hospital care (hospitalists), among whom patients are plausibly quasi-randomized to physicians based on the physician’s specific work schedules. We also investigated whether differences in patient outcomes varied by specific condition or by underlying severity of illness.That just sounds scientificalistic as all hell, dunnit? And hospitalists? Who knew? TOF always thought they were "doctors."
Conclusion: Patients treated by female physicians had lower 30-day mortality (adjusted mortality, 11.07% vs 11.49% …) and lower 30-day readmissions (adjusted readmissions, 15.02% vs 15.57% …) than patients cared for by male physicians, after accounting for potential confounders.It is important to realize that the researchers were not as bold as the newsreaders. They wrote under Key Points:
Differences in practice patterns between male and female physicians, as suggested in previous studies, may have important clinical implications for patient outcomes.TOF notes a few cautions:
Caution #1. The mortality difference was 11.1% vs. 11.5%. We caution you not to clutch your pearls too tightly over this chasm-like gap.
Caution #2. These were "adjusted percentages." That means the actual percentages were something else and the researchers tweaked the numbers to make them "all else being equal." That is, the reported %'s are the result of a model. The uncertainty of the model was not mentioned. One suspects it may have been more than 0.4%-points.
Caution #3. There were about 1,000 "all elses" that were equalized. These are called co-variates in stat-lingo. That's a heckuva lot of co-variates, leading to the possibility of multi-collinearity. This is when two or more covariates are themselved correlated with each other. If this happens, the model is over-determined and the estimates may be flawed. One is more likely to obtain an uninterpretable swamp. Did they check the Variance Inflation Factors and eliminate superfluous covariates? Inquiring minds want to know.
Caution #4. NBC simply said "patients," but the mean age of these patients was about 80 years old and the first rule of sampling is that the results cannot be generalized to populations that were not subjected to the sampling.
Caution #5. Female doctors were about 5 years younger on average, and female docs also treated many fewer patients on average than men. This implies women docs had more time per patient.
Caution #6. The report says, “female physicians treated slightly higher proportions of female patients than male physicians did.” Since females tend to live longer than males, especially at advanced age, this would present as a higher survival rate for the patients of female doctors, not because of the doctors' skills but because of the patients' longevity. Is that the reason? TOF does not know, and neither do you or NBC.
One species of "Fake News" is when the reporter doesn't know what he's writing about, which is often the case, especially in technical subjects. The problem is that most scientific papers are wrong.
Most published scientific research papers are wrong, according to a new analysis. Assuming that the new paper is itself correct, problems with experimental and statistical methods mean that there is less than a 50% chance that the results of any randomly chosen scientific paper are true. -- New ScientistMost clinical researchers, while experts in their fields, are not experts in statistics and tend to find significant results that aren't there, especially if they want to find them. What is almost as bad, if not worse, is when they took Intro to Stats back in college and learned a cook-book approach to "number crunching." The on-going obsession with p-values and tests of significance often overlooks two things:
- Statistical significance is not causal significance.
- Statistical significance applies to the parameters of the model, not to the actual data.