Women more likely to die of heart attack with a male doctor

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

Women who show up in the emergency room with a heart attack are less likely to die if they are treated by a female physician rather than a male, a new study finds.

Even after taking these factors into account, they found that female patients were less likely to survive heart attacks than male patients.

Previous research has found better outcomes among hospitalized Medicare patients treated by women, but the underlying reasons remain murky at best. A new study now claims that it's a matter of life or death when it comes to a woman having a heart attack and being seen by a female physician.

A study found that 13.3 per cent died after being treated by a man, against 12 per cent of those treated by a woman. "Such research might include experimental interventions, or tests of more targeted training, to examine how exposing male physicians more thoroughly to the presentation of female patients might impact outcomes", they say. So if a doctor is affected by that notion, he might not take complaints from female patients as seriously-especially since heart attack symptoms in women can be different from those in men. Some of the things that seem to set apart many female doctors today, from how they communicate with patients to their willingness to follow clinical guidelines, are possible to learn and teach to future generations of both male and female doctors, physician and University of California, Davis, researcher Klea Bertakis told Stat News.

"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", says Huang, a professor of organizational psychology at Harvard Business School.

Maureen Talbot, Senior Cardiac Nurse at the British Heart Foundation, suggested the findings could also be explained by basic misunderstandings about the risk of heart attacks for women.

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Patients treated by female physicians had a 0.2% difference in survival rates between genders: 12% of women died from their heart attack compared to 11.8% of men.

These conclusions are central to a paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences entitled "Patient-Physician Gender Concordance and Increased Mortality Among Female Heart Attack Patients", co-authored with Brad Greenwood at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities and Harvard University's Laura Huang. Specifically, a study found that patients who were treated by female doctors had lower mortality and readmission rates. And the impact of this is so strong, just having more women doctors in the emergency room may increase a woman's chance of survival.

Notably, one out of 4 female deaths can be linked to heart attack, which is a leading cause of death for women in the United States, as per the CDC.

"One [reason] could be that female patients are more comfortable advocating for themselves with a female physician", he said.

Female doctors may also simply be performing at least some parts of the job better than their male counterparts do. "A male physician sees a female physician treat a female patient successfully, and sees potential cues".

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