Female heart attack patients likely to survive if treated by women doctors

Female heart attack patients likely to survive if treated by women doctors

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.

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. Both sexes experience chest pain and discomfort commonly associated with a heart attack, women are more likely to experience shortness of breath, nausea, vomiting, and back or jaw pain.

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.

The team analyzed almost two decades of records for every patient admitted to Florida emergency rooms with a heart attack between 1991 and 2010.

And the research showed that the gender gap for patients treated by female physicians was only about 0.2 percent: 11.8 percent of men died, versus about 12 percent of women.

When patients were treated by male doctors, 12.6% of men died compared with 13.3% of women.

Matching female doctors to female patients "reduced the probability of death by 5.4 per cent, relative to this baseline", it said.

But the gap grew starkly when the doctor was a man - 13.3 per cent of women died and 12.6 per cent of men. In addition, they found that survival rates among female patients treated by male physicians improved with an increase in the percentage of female physicians in the emergency department and an increase in the number of female patients previously treated by the physician. But male doctors were linked to worse outcomes, particularly for women. "Spurious signals sometimes come up [in research], so this should be replicated", she says.

Another possible factor could be that female heart attack patients are entering hospitals with gender-specific symptoms that are more readily recognized by female physicians, Greenwood added. Furthermore, heart attacks can often present differently in men and woman. "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)".

Such a scenario might also explain another of Greenwood's findings: The more female colleagues a male emergency physician had, the more likely his female patients were to survive as well. Or there could be a bias that favors men in the medical literature (in which heart attacks are better understood when they happen in men), leading to misdiagnoses in women. "It could be you have spillover between physicians", he says. Or you have assistance: "A female colleague cues him into what's going on".

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.

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