In the workers’ compensation system, an injured worker’s benefits depend heavily on medical evidence: the reports their doctor files, how familiar with their job and their injuries the doctor is, and most importantly the doctor’s disability opinion. It’s an adversarial system in which the worker’s treating doctor is often opposed by the employer or insurance company’s hired medical consultant.
Recently, researchers from the University of Texas and the University of Illinois Chicago looked at cases in the Texas workers’ compensation system where there was a dispute between the doctors. They found that when injured female workers’ claims were assigned to a female doctor for evaluation, the workers were 5% more likely to receive benefits and averaged 8.5% more in benefits than when they were evaluated by a male doctor.
Digging deeper the researchers found that an “own-gender” doctor was more likely to treat the patient with respect, credit their complaints, and ask questions instead of making assumptions. They noted that their study was consistent with other research that has shown large disparities between male and female patients in health care and social benefit systems like workers’ compensation.
Although injured workers cannot pick the insurance company’s doctor, they do have the right to choose their own doctor. In doing so, this research suggests that there may be both medical and benefit advantages to female workers seeing female doctors when they can.