Female Heart Attack Patients Benefit Much More From Female Doctors, Study Shows

Henrietta Strickland
August 9, 2018

Women are more likely to survive heart attacks if treated by women physicians in the emergency room, a new study that reviewed about half a million patients over more than 20 years found. The study called for more women doctors on emergency wards, and for training to be improved so that heart attacks are not seen as a male-only issue.

During the almost two-decade study timeframe, roughly 1.3 million heart attacks occurred among Florida's 20 million residents. Furthermore, heart attacks can often present differently in men and woman.

Researchers at Harvard University found a "stark" difference in survival according to whether the patient's and doctor's gender matched. In this case, 11.8% of men died compared with 12% of women. Moreover, females are somewhat more likely to experience a different kind of common symptoms of heart attack than men, as per the American Heart Association. Both sexes experience chest pain and discomfort commonly associated with a heart attack, women are more likely to experience shortness of breath, nausea, vomiting, and back or jaw pain.

The study, "Patient-physician gender concordance and increased mortality among female heart attack patients", was published on August 6, 2018 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). The results? Male doctors who had more exposure to female colleagues and patients were slightly more successful in helping their female patients to survive, and the effect grew with the presence of more females.

But "the penalty for being female is greater" when women are treated by male physicians, says Greenwood. Either way, the study suggests that when the proportion of female physicians in an emergency department rises by 5 percent, the survival rates of the women treated there rise by 0.4 percentage points. "But, if the survival rate among the female heart attack patients treated by male doctors was the same as the survival rate among female heart attack patients treated by female doctors, about 1500-3000 fewer of the female heart attack patients in our sample would have passed away".

Rather than rely on women to act as test dummies for inexperienced doctors, though, it'd better to just stock our emergency rooms and health care centres with more women doctors.

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.

Could the gender of your physician really determine whether you have more of a chance to live?

Study authors Brad Greenwood, Seth Carnahan, and Laura Huang spent two decades analyzing the different treatment men and women receive from male and female physicians at a Florida hospital.

Also, given the gender bias in outcomes, hospital administrators may also want to narrow the pay gap between male and female doctors. In the new study everyone was more likely to survive if they saw a female physician, and a study published a year ago in JAMA Internal Medicine indicated all patients of female physicians had lower mortality and hospital readmission rates. "A male physician sees a female physician treat a female patient successfully, and sees potential cues".

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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