Image of Dan Ly, M.D., Ph.D.

Elderly patients in the same outpatient practice are more likely to be vaccinated for flu if they are seen by a female versus a male doctor, a new study suggests.

Investigators analyzed Medicare claims data from 2006 through 2016 for beneficiaries aged 65 years and older. The data included approximately 40 million patient visits to about 150,000 female physicians and 300,000 male physicians.

Patients of female physicians were vaccinated at higher rates than those of male physicians across patient gender, race and ethnic categories, reported Dan Ly, M.D., Ph.D., of the University of California, Los Angeles. In addition, female physicians were more likely than male physicians to vaccinate patients with the highest levels of chronic conditions and comorbidities, Ly said.

Differences in vaccination rates between patients of female and male physicians represented 10% of a gap between white and Black vaccinations and about 30% of a white–Hispanic vaccination gap, Ly added. Overall, Black patients were about 14% less likely, and Hispanics 5% less likely, than whites to get a shot. 

The findings may reflect known differences between male and female physicians in the time spent with patients and their communication styles, Ly surmised. It is also possible that patients who choose a female physician are different in other ways that make them more likely to be vaccinated, he added. 

The study was published in JAMA Internal Medicine.