Female heart attack patients fare better if treated by a woman

Female heart attack patients fare better if treated by a woman

A study out today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences offers a new theory for this disparity: It suggests that men, who account for the majority of doctors, are worse at treating female heart attack patients than their female counterparts.

Dr Carnahan said: "Our work corroborates prior research showing that female doctors tend to produce better patient outcomes than male doctors".

During the almost two-decade study timeframe, roughly 1.3 million heart attacks occurred among Florida's 20 million residents.

Heart disease is the number-one killer of both men and women, but the latter are significantly less likely to survive heart attacks. The gap widens with time: By five years after a heart attack nearly half of women die, compared with 36 percent of men. 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.

The new study, conducted by three business school professors at the University of Minnesota, Washington University in St. Louis, and Harvard, started by looking at whether gender concordance between patients and the attending physicians in the emergency department influenced survival.

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.

The research is similar to another Carnahan-Greenwood collaboration documenting how female lawyers were less likely to advance in their firms with promotions and plum assignments when they worked for politically conservative male law partners. 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.

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Emergency doctors and cardiologists, however, are wary of jumping to conclusions just yet. It's important that we better understand what is causing this variation in care, and the BHF is already funding research in to how we can improve the outcomes of women who have 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.

The new study highlights the importance of having "a strong female physician workforce", said Jennifer Haythe, co-director of Columbia Women's Heart Centre at the Columbia University Medical Centre.

The gender survival difference was highest under male physicians.

Also, given the gender bias in outcomes, hospital administrators may also want to narrow the pay gap between male and female doctors.

One possible reason for this is that female physicians tend to share more information with patients and to focus more on partnership and patient participation while Male physicians tend to stick to "the facts", emphasizing the patient history and physical exam.

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

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