No matter which country a clinician is from, regardless of whether malpractice suits were ultimately successful, and regardless of when suits were filed, male clinicians are more than two and half times likely to be sued than are female clinicians.

This was the conclusion of a meta-analysis of 32 studies published in BMC Medicine by Unwin et al (2015). The study is thought to be the first to analyze gender differences in legal actions against clinicians globally. In the United States between 2008 and 2013, there was a 17% increase in licenses revoked, denied, or suspended, and in the United Kingdom, there was a 64% increase in the number of complaints between 2010 and 2013.

The study tends to refute previous suggestions that the difference could be attributed to a greater number of male clinicians, though it does not address previous hypotheses that the effect could be attributable to the fact that male providers have more patient interactions or work more hours than their female counterparts. Nor was the study able to establish patterns connected with specific clinical specialties.

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Even though more women have entered the profession, the study showed a relatively steady gender difference during the past 15 years.

The paper’s authors call for additional study by medical schools, regulators, and researchers to help understand this pattern and its significance for patient safety. 

Ann Latner, JD, a former criminal defense attorney, is a freelance medical writer in Port Washington, N.Y.