Women have a higher chance of surviving heart attacks when they are treated by female doctors over male doctors, a new study suggests. Therefore, the male doctors might assume the heart attack symptoms experienced by female patients is similar to that of male patients. Women often have heart attacks at an older age, which increases the risk of a more severe one; they might also delay going to the hospital once they have a heart attack, downplaying or misreading their symptoms at first.
Studies have shown that diagnosing the symptoms of a heart attack is more hard to do in women.
Interestingly, the "gender bias" diminished when there were more women in the emergency department, and as men treated more women.
"Our work corroborates prior research showing that female doctors tend to produce better patient outcomes than male doctors", Carnahan said. In this case, 11.8% of men died compared with 12% of women. They showed that women are more likely to die when treated by male doctors, compared to either men treated by male doctors or women treated by female doctors.
"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. 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 team analyzed almost two decades of records for every patient admitted to Florida emergency rooms with a heart attack between 1991 and 2010.
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. But, according to a new study, not if they're treated by female doctors. 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.
They found female patients had lower survival rates than male patients when treated by male physicians. That, said Greenwood, could be because female doctors might share their experience in tackling heart attacks in women. Researchers at the University of Minnesota have found that female heart attack patients are more likely to die when treated by a man rather than a woman.
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. While it's clear that male physicians are better at taking care of men with heart attacks than women, "it's harder to tell if female physicians have no such gender disparity because their numbers are so small".
Female doctors may also simply be performing at least some parts of the job better than their male counterparts do.
The gender survival difference was highest under male physicians.