Women survive heart attacks better with women doctors

Female doctor and senior patient reviewing medical chart in clinic examination room

This review of records also confirms growing research that shows how heart attacks can be different for women - and the way doctors assess and treat them can differ, too.

According to their findings in "Patient-Physician Gender Concordance and Increased Mortality Among Female Heart Attack Patients", of more than 500,000 heart attack patients admitted to hospital emergency departments in Florida between 1991 and 2010, female patients treated by male physicians were less likely to survive than patients of either gender treated by female physicians or male patients treated by male physicians. "All of those are statistically indistinguishable except for male doctor-female patient", says Brad Greenwood, an author on the study and a data scientist at the University of Minnesota.

Women suffering from a heart attack are more likely to wait before seeking medical treatment and are less likely to be taken to a properly-equipped hospital, making them almost twice as likely (12 percent) to die in the hospital than men. But the difference diminished when male doctors worked in emergency rooms with a higher percentage of female physicians.

They found female patients had lower survival rates than male patients when treated by male physicians.

Huang, a professor of organizational psychology at Harvard Business School told The Atlantic: "There are inequalities in a lot of different contexts, but when someone is suffering from a heart attack, you might expect that there would be no gender differences because every physician will go in trying to save their patient's life".

As the study is observational, it does not provide any strong answer to why male doctors flag behind. Men are more likely to be diagnosed with a heart condition in their lifetime than women, but diagnosed women are less likely to survive.

Second, women tend to delay seeking treatment (perhaps because they think they can't possibly be having a heart attack).

They found that 13.3% of female patients seen by a male physician died, compared with 12% of women treated by another woman.

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It can not prove it was the presence of female doctors that caused the improved survival rates.

For patients treated by female physicians, 11.8 percent of men died against about 12 percent of women.

"What is convincing is that we have to do better in terms of caring for women with cardiovascular disease - all of us", Dr. Jha said.

Also, given the gender bias in outcomes, hospital administrators may also want to narrow the pay gap between male and female doctors. "Female physicians may communicate better, with less medical jargon".

GRAPHIC: A graphic lists symptoms of heart attacks in women.

Another variable they cite, omitted in this study, is the previous finding by other researchers that female physicians tend to perform better than male physicians across a wide variety of ailments.

"This highlights the importance of ensuring a gender-diverse work environment", says Vineet Arora from the University of Chicago, "and it suggests an intervention that can improve outcomes"-namely, hiring more women".

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