Gender Differences in patient-provider symptom agreement in reporting respiratory complaints on a questionnaire

Gay J. Canaris, Thomas G. Tape, Lynette M. Smith, Devin R. Nickol, Robert S. Wigton

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Background: Men and women communicate differently, but it is unclear whether this influences health care outcomes. Objective: Because women patients frequently choose women health care providers, we examined whether this preference was affected by communication styles. We focused on communication of disease-specific symptoms, hypothesizing that symptom agreement between women patients and women health care providers would be greater than between other patient-provider gender combinations. Methods: Patients attending outpatient clinics were recruited as part of a study of respiratory illness at 7 university-affiliated sites during 3 consecutive influenza seasons (2000-2003). Individuals aged ≥ 19 years were offered enrollment if they sought care for cold or flu symptoms at a participating study site. Patients were eligible to participate in the study if they reported any 1 of 6 symptoms: cough, runny nose, fever (subjective), muscle aches, sore throat, and/or exhaustion. Using separate questionnaires, patients and their health care providers recorded the patients' respiratory symptoms (as present or absent). Patients recorded their symptoms before visiting their health care provider, and providers recorded patient symptoms after the visit. Symptom agreement was compared using general estimating equations across all gender combinations. Results: A total of 327 patients (220 women, 107 men) and 84 health care providers (37 women, 47 men) participated in the study. Overall symptom agreement for all patient-provider gender combinations was 81.9% (95% CI, 79.6%-84.2%). For each symptom, the observed agreement significantly exceeded the agreement expected by chance alone (P < 0.001 for all symptoms except "no energy," which was P = 0.023). The male-male pairing of patient and provider was more likely to agree on a symptom than were the other gender combinations, although not statistically significantly more so than the female-female pairing. Conclusions: In this survey of patients with respiratory illness, there was no significant difference in symptom agreement for most symptoms between the male-male and female-female patient-provider combinations. Based on these findings, symptom agreement alone does not explain why women patients select women health care providers.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)186-193
Number of pages8
JournalGender Medicine
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 2008


  • doctor-patient communication
  • gender differences
  • symptoms

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Gender Studies


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