Societal values regarding the nature and consequences of patient autonomy and medical paternalism underscore the current debates surrounding informed consent and shared decision making. The debate is significant in that it both reflects and determines normative expectations for physician and patient conduct as well as the nature and form of the therapeutic relationship. Analysis of the literature describing communication differences between physicians of different genders indicates that female physicians show a greater affinity for collaborative models of patient-physician relationship than do their male colleagues. Female physicians spend more time with their patients, are more likely to engage their patients in discussions of their social and psychologic context, and deal more often with feelings and emotions. Moreover, female physicians facilitate partnership and patient participation in the medical exchange more effectively than do male physicians. The authors propose that the quality of the interactive process is critical to the establishment of a therapeutic relationship and that this process is related to physician gender. They also suggest that physician gender matters in the shaping of the patient-physician relationship through this interactive process.
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