Women with heart attacks more likely to die when treated by men

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A new study suggests that hospitals have a good reason to hire more female physicians for their emergency department staff. Women experiencing heart attacks are more likely to survive when treated by a female doctor than a male doctor.

Overall, the team found that female physicians outperformed their male colleagues, and their patients were, on the whole, more likely to live.

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. In other words, 11.8 percent of men died, versus about 12 percent of women. "Such research might include experimental interventions, or tests of more targeted training, to examine how exposing male physicians more thoroughly to the presentation of female patients might impact outcomes", they say.

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.

In this study, women heart attack patients were found to be more likely to survive if they were treated by women doctors, according to the team of researchers at Olin Business School at Washington University, Harvard Business School and Carlson School of Management at University of Minnesota Business School.

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".

The findings are reported in "Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences".

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Among patients who survived, women treated by male doctors spent more time in the hospital before being released, further suggesting worse medical care.

That's because more and more studies are coming to the same conclusion: Female doctors produce better outcomes than men.

That doesn't mean we can only be healthy if our doctor looks just like us. That, said Greenwood, could be because female doctors might share their experience in tackling heart attacks in women. "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".

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

And because heart attacks come about suddenly, patients are rarely able to choose their doctor - or his or her gender - when entering an emergency department.

"Medical practitioners should be aware of the possible challenges male providers face when treating female [heart attack] patients", the researchers wrote.