Gender differences in time spent during direct observation of doctor-patient encounters

Hava Tabenkin, Meredith A. Goodwin, Stephen J. Zyzanski, Kurt C. Stange, Jack H. Medalie

    Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

    51 Scopus citations


    Background: Despite increasing recognition of women's health needs, little is known about how primary care physicians spend time with women. Therefore, we examined differences in time use and preventive service delivery during outpatient visits by male and female patients. Methods: As part of a multimethod study of 138 family physicians, 3384 outpatient visits by adults were directly observed, medical records were reviewed, and patient surveys were performed. Time use was assessed by the Davis Observation Code, which classifies every 15 seconds into 20 behavioral categories. Receipt of health habit counseling recommended by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force was assessed by direct observation, and eligibility was determined by chart review. Logistic regression and multivariate analysis of variance (ANOVA) were used to compare time use and preventive service delivery in visits by women vs. men. Results: Sixty-four percent of adult visits were from women. Women reported poorer physical health, had higher rates of anxiety (12.5% vs. 7.4% in men), and depression (21.9% vs. 8.4% in men), a higher percent of visits for well care (10.2% vs. 8.8% in men), and more drugs prescribed (64.8% vs. 61% in men) and raised more emotional issues than men (14.7% vs. 7.5%). After controlling for visit and patients characteristics, visits by women had a higher percent of time spent on physical examination, structuring the intervention, patient questions, screening, and emotional counseling. Visits by men involved a higher percent of time spent on procedures and health behavior counseling. More eligible men than women received exercise, diet, and substance abuse counseling. Patients of female physicians exhibited gender differences in only one category of how time was spent (substance abuse), whereas among patients of male physicians, gender differences were noted in 10 of the 20 categories. Conclusions: Outpatient visits by women differ from those of men in ways that reflect women's unique healthcare needs but also raise concern about unequal delivery of health habit counseling for diet and exercise.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)341-349
    Number of pages9
    JournalJournal of Women's Health
    Issue number3
    StatePublished - 1 Apr 2004

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • General Medicine


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