New UCLA research released Monday suggests that elderly patients of female physicians are more likely than patients of male physicians in the same outpatient practice to be vaccinated against the flu.

The research notes that this trend holds for all the racial and ethnic subgroups studied and could provide insight into improving vaccination rates for influenza and other diseases.

Prior research has shown that female physicians spend more time with their patients, said study author Dr. Dan Ly, assistant professor of medicine in the division of general internal medicine and health services research at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA.

It is also known that patients in some ethnic groups, particularly Black patients, are less likely to be vaccinated for a variety of complex reasons, he said.

“Now we’re trying to vaccinate against COVID-19, and we will soon get to a point where most adults who want a vaccine will get it,” Ly said. “We’ll then need to reach those who need more convincing in order to be vaccinated, and my research suggests that perhaps this extra time spent may be helpful in getting these patients vaccinated.”

Ly said that in general, flu vaccines are 40% to 60% effective. But COVID-19 vaccines, are more than 90% effective, and even more so against severe disease, according to the study published in the peer-reviewed JAMA Internal Medicine.

“This means that the time spent to convince a patient to get vaccinated against COVID-19 is time well spent, not to mention the societal benefits coming from it,” Ly said.

Ly examined Medicare claims data from 2006 through 2016 for beneficiaries age 65 years and older for eight race/sex groups: white men, white women, Black men, Black women, Asian men, Asian women, Hispanic men, and Hispanic women. Their sample included about 150,000 female physicians and 300,000 male physicians.

The research showed that patients of female physicians were vaccinated at higher rates across the board. For white men, the rate was 52.7% among those seen by female physicians compared with 52.0% for male physicians. For white women seen by female physicians, the rate was 54.6% compared with 53.8% for male physicians. Female/male physician vaccination rates were 39.8% and 38.1% for Black men, 41.6% and 40.3% for Black women, 56.8% and 54.7% for Asian men, 56.4% and 55.7% for Asian women, 48.9% and 47.3% for Hispanic men, and 50.6% and 49.1% for Hispanic women.

Ly also found that female physicians were more likely than male physicians to get their sicker patients vaccinated.

These differences in vaccination rates between female and male physicians represent about 10% of the white/Black and 30% of the white/Hispanic gaps in flu vaccination rates, Ly wrote. Known differences in communication style may also be at play in the differences between female and male physicians’ vaccination rates.

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