A study at the University of Liverpool has revealed that male patients are given more authorized sick leaves by male doctors as compared to females by female doctors.
The report indicated that male patients are likely to be given larger amount of intermediate sick leave (6-28 weeks) from work by the male GPs as compared to the female patients.
The first of its kind study in UK is based on a survey of 3,906 patients from nine general practices across Merseyside. Dr Mark Gabbay from the University's Division of Primary Care explained: "The evident link between GP gender and consultation outcome could be down to differing assumptions about roles within work for male and female patients and hence capacity for work, between GPs of different gender.
"On the other hand, the key to gender interaction differences might be found with the patient. Male patients may be more demanding, or better negotiators, when facing a male GP. What is not clear is whether this group do indeed have relatively greater problems, poorer coping skills, or are more sympathetically dealt with by male than female GPs."
The most common cause of complaint by women were Mild mental disorders (MMDs) such as depression and anxiety, followed by musculoskeletal problems for which males required a higher ratio of medical attention.
Astonishingly, the research revealed that the male patients were granted a longer amount of sick leave for MMDs compared with female patients, by doctors of both genders groups.
Dr Gabbay explained: "Previous research suggests male patients do not often present clear psychological symptoms of MMDs thus complicating diagnosis of related diseases by the GP. The complexities involved with diagnosing MMDs in males could go some way to explaining the longer sick leave granted by the doctor."
In the UK, it has been reported that every week, approximately 17,000 people of working age reach their sixth week of sickness absence. The bulk will return to paid employment but it is approximated that around 3,000 of those people will consequently exceed the 28-week incapacity episode and become entitled to claim incapacity benefit.
The first week of sickness can be self-certified by the patient but afterwards it must be certified by their GP. The certification of the sickness absence is done on the basis of an assessment of a patient's capacity to conduct duties involved in their 'usual occupation' by the GP who has a contract-based commitment to the certification.
Dr Gabbay added: "Sickness certification is an important outcome of a GP consultation - it has wide social and economic impact in relation to the workforce in the UK, as well as implications for the individual. We will be further investigating links between gender interaction and sickness consultation to determine the reasons behind this bias."