Women more likely to die of heart attack with a male doctor

A doctor holds her stethoscope in an outpatients ward

Women who have a heart attack are more likely to survive if they are treated by a female doctor in hospital, a major USA study suggests. And though data shows that male doctors tend to improve in their treatment of female heart patients over time, the study points out that this waiting game could be a deadly one.

Previous research has found better outcomes among hospitalized Medicare patients treated by women, but the underlying reasons remain murky at best.

This review of records also confirms growing research that shows how heart attacks can be different for women - and the way doctors assess and treat them can differ, too. Men are more likely to be diagnosed with a heart condition in their lifetime than women, but diagnosed women are less likely to survive. When the researchers looked at patients matched with a doctor of their own sex, that figure improved...

Women suffering from a heart attack are more likely to wait before seeking medical treatment and are less likely to be taken to a properly-equipped hospital, making them almost twice as likely (12 percent) to die in the hospital than men.

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.

The finding comes from a study of two decades of data on nearly 582,000 heart attack patients admitted to hospitals across the state of Florida between 1991 and 2010.

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The findings are reported in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. But, according to a new study, not if they're treated by female doctors.

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

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. That, said Greenwood, could be because female doctors might share their experience in tackling heart attacks in women.

But when female physicians took charge of treatment, those percentages fell - to 11.8% of men and 12% of women. 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 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. "And male physicians could learn a thing or two from our female colleagues about how to achieve better outcomes". "If male physicians had the same outcomes as female physicians, we'd have 32,000 fewer deaths in the Medicare population", Jha wrote.

"The key takeaway is that male physicians appear to have trouble treating female patients", Greenwood said.

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