Women more likely to die of heart attack if doctor is male


Women are more likely to survive a heart attack if they are treated by a female doctor in hospital, a major study has shown.

'Our work corroborates prior research showing that female doctors tend to produce better patient outcomes than male doctors, ' said Seth Carnahan, a co-author of the study from Washington University in St Louis. "The fact that gender concordance (that is, men treating men or women treating women) correlates with whether a patient survives a heart attack has implications for theory and practice".

A truly incredible study claims a woman who has a heart attack should probably insist on being treated by a female doctor. Heart attacks are currently the leading cause of death among both American men and women across the economic spectrum, and now account for about a quarter of all fatalities in the United States, the researchers noted.

As well as looking at the patients' age, gender, and whether they had other health problems, the team also looked at whether the patient died during their stay in hospital and whether the emergency room doctor primarily looking after them was a man or a woman.

When patients were treated by male doctors, 12.6pc of men died compared with 13.3pc of women - a difference of 0.7pc.

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".

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

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Writing in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Greenwood and colleagues describe how they looked at records from Florida of emergency department admissions for heart attacks between 1991 and 2010. It is a little early to say male physicians have trouble treating female heart attack patients based on these data alone, says Michelle O'Donoghue, a cardiologist at Brigham and Women's Hospital and Harvard Medical School who did not work on the new study.

The figures suggest a woman would have 5.4 per cent less chance of dying from a heart attack if treated by a doctor of the same sex.

If you're having a heart attack and you're a woman, hope a female doctor greets you in the emergency room. They suggest more female doctors are needed within emergency departments, and say training of doctors needs to be improved to make sure heart disease is not seen only as a male issue. "And male physicians could learn a thing or two from our female colleagues about how to achieve better outcomes".

Although women patients matched with women physicians have been studied before, this study is the first time heart attack outcomes were assessed for gender concordance.

These findings represent a "fundamental catch-22 for medical providers and female patients", wrote the authors.

That said, the gender difference in doctors probably doesn't explain the entire gap in heart disease survival.