Medicine

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

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

Should women request physicians of the same gender? Female heart attack patients are more likely to die when treated by a male ER doctor, a new study finds. In other words, 11.8 percent of men died, versus about 12 percent of women.

If you're having a heart attack and you're a woman, hope a female doctor greets you in the emergency room.

"Most physicians are male, and male physicians appear to have trouble treating female patients", said the report. "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. They found that, when all other factors had been accounted for, men and women had similar outcomes of survival when seen by a female doctor, whereas women suffered greater rates of death when seen by a male doctor.

The team analyzed almost two decades of records for every patient admitted to Florida emergency rooms with a heart attack between 1991 and 2010.

While the study didn't define an exact cause for this phenomenon, researchers do take some guesses based on well-known facts about heart disease in women and how it's treated.

"Especially in emergency medicine, where physicians are tasked with saving peoples' lives, it is assumed that physicians should be working to save everyone's lives equally", Laura Huang, professor at Harvard Business School and one of the study authors, told ABC News. "Something about the female experience when she's being treated by a male doctor" is linked to these deaths, she says.

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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. "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". "[Or] it could be because women are more likely to present atypically and female physicians are better at picking up cues than their male colleagues". As a result, women's symptoms went underappreciated, their medical problems were misdiagnosed, and their lives hung in the balance.

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

This study offers a new explanation for why gender inequality in heart attack mortality persists. In a rousing editorial, Healy lamented that decades of research that focused nearly entirely on men had "reinforced the myth that coronary heart disease is a uniquely male affliction and generated data sets in which men are the normative standard".

Their chances were also improved if treated by a male doctor who had a lot of female colleagues in his team.

"Female physicians may follow clinical guidelines more often", he said in the post.

While the most common symptoms of heart attacks in both the genders is chest pain or discomfort, sometimes both can experience different symptoms before experiencing a heart attack which the female doctors are able to identify faster, said Seth Carnahan of Washington University and one of the authors of the study.


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