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Study finds female doctors better for heart patients

09 August 2018

In the United States, women are less likely than men to survive the years after a heart attack, even after accounting for age.

A review of almost 582,000 heart attack cases over 19 years showed female patients had a significantly higher survival rate when a woman treated them in the ER, according to Seth Carnahan, associate professor of strategy at Olin Business School at Washington University in St. Louis and part of a three-member research team on the project.

A female patient is also more likely to survive if a male doctor has recently treated more female patients, who may have had similar symptoms.

They found female patients had lower survival rates than male patients when treated by male physicians.

"Even though lives should be equally saved, we are seeing this pervasive difference", says study co-author Laura Huang, a professor of business administration at Harvard Business School.

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. It's not exactly clear what women are doing that's producing better outcomes than men.

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.

The study was based on more than 500,000 patients admitted to hospital emergency departments for acute myocardial infarction - a medical term for heart attack - in Florida between 1991 and 2010.

This is backed by one of the findings which showed that, as a male physician treats more women, his mortality rate after treatment decreases.

She said: "The stereotypical heart attack patient is often thought to be a middle-aged man with a poor lifestyle".

That means if 1,000 women went to the emergency room with a heart attack, 15 more would die if they were treated by a male doctor, study leaded Brad Greenwood of the Carlson School of Management at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities told Reuters Health. For one thing, doctors may not be spending the time to realize that men and women may have different symptoms, and women may have more subtle symptoms, she said. He and his colleagues found that there's no gender gap in survival when the doctor is female. In this case, 11.8% of men died compared with 12% of women.

"What is convincing", Jha adds, "is that we have to do better in terms of caring for women with cardiovascular disease-all of us".

Female doctors may also simply be performing at least some parts of the job better than their male counterparts do.

GRAPHIC: A graphic lists symptoms of heart attacks in women.

The reason has eluded researchers for years, but the authors of the new study point to the disparity in male and female representation in emergency doctors as a potential source of answers.

"This highlights the importance of ensuring a gender-diverse work environment", says Vineet Arora from the University of Chicago, "and it suggests an intervention that can improve outcomes"-namely, hiring more women".

Study finds female doctors better for heart patients