Published: Thu, August 09, 2018
Medicine | By Tracy Klein

Harvard study issues shocking warning for female heart attack victims

Harvard study issues shocking warning for female heart attack victims

Women who show up in the emergency room with a heart attack are less likely to die if they are treated by a female physician rather than a male, a new study finds. "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. "If female patients tend to be more challenging for male and female doctors to diagnose and treat, the patterns we document may reflect the fact that the most skillful physicians (i.e., female physicians) provide the highest return to their skills when treating the most challenging patients (i.e., female patients)".

Could the gender of your physician really determine whether you have more of a chance to live? But a new study has revealed that, when it comes to certain conditions, whether your doctor is male or female could actually impact on your chances of survival.

"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.

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. It is possible that doctors who are men may be less attuned to this and it could be that women physicians communicate differently with women patients.

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.

Researchers found that the more women a male doctor treated in his life, the less likely his female patients were to die.

Nearly 12 per cent of patients die when rushed for emergency treatment for a heart attack.

But why? Some experts have suggested it may be because women's symptoms are different than men's, or that they tend to delay treatment more often than men.

The team analyzed almost two decades of records for every patient admitted to Florida emergency rooms with a heart attack between 1991 and 2010. He and his colleagues found that there's no gender gap in survival when the doctor is female. Under the care of male doctors, 13.3 percent of women died versus 12.6 percent of men - a difference roughly three times greater.

"It's important that we better understand what is causing this variation in care. And male physicians could learn a thing or two from our female colleagues about how to achieve better outcomes". This suggests that whatever female doctors are doing that's better is also transferable.

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

"While this study supports this theory, more research is needed in United Kingdom hospitals to see if the bias exists here. Improving outcomes for these patients relies on everyone working together effectively, and not just the physicians".

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