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Women more likely to survive heart attack if treated by female doctor

09 August 2018

Previous studies based on data from Australia and Sweden have revealed that men and women experience different care if they have a heart attack, while United Kingdom research has shown women are more likely to be misdiagnosed.

Women who have heart attacks are less likely to die if they see a female doctor.

Maureen Talbot, senior cardiac nurse at the British Heart Foundation, said previous research from the charity had already shown a "worrying difference" in the treatment given to men and women suffering from heart attacks. For example, women can experience different heart attack symptoms from those experienced by men.

By another way of looking at the data, "female patients treated by male physicians were 1.52 per cent less likely to survive than male patients treated by female physicians". Male doctors who treated more female patients in the recent past, or who had more female colleagues, had female patients with higher survival rates, indicating that experience - whether hands-on or through observing colleagues - can make a difference.

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.

This study offers a new explanation for why gender inequality in heart attack mortality persists. 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.

Further analysis showed that men and women had similar chances of survival when they saw female doctors.

Mortality rates for women who undergo a traumatic event like a heart attack are higher than men.

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Although a lot more research is needed, the results confirm how different women's symptoms can seem when they come into the emergency room for a heart attack.

It can not prove it was the presence of female doctors that caused the improved survival rates.

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.

But when female physicians took charge of treatment, those percentages fell - to 11.8% of men and 12% of women.

"It's important that we better understand what is causing this variation in care".

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

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

"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. Improving outcomes for these patients relies on everyone working together effectively, and not just the physicians".

Women more likely to survive heart attack if treated by female doctor