Women better survive heart attacks with women doctors

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Women who suffer a heart attack have a higher chance of survival if they are treated by a female doctor, according to a U.S. study. "If they are concerned that they may be having a heart attack they should ask the treating physician - man or woman - if they have had an appropriate evaluation to determine this, and if not, why not".

Heart disease is the number one killer of women and men in the USA, and symptoms of heart attack can show up differently in men and women.

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.

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"One [reason] could be that female patients are more comfortable advocating for themselves with a female physician", he said. 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.

"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", says Huang, a professor of organizational psychology at Harvard Business School.

Although women patients matched with women physicians have been studied before, this study is the first time heart attack outcomes were assessed for gender concordance. Women patients only fare worse than men when their doctor is male. Heart attacks are currently the leading cause of death among both American men and women across the economic spectrum, and now account for about a quarter of all fatalities in the United States, the researchers noted. For one thing, doctors may not be spending the time to realize that men and women may have different symptoms, and women may have more subtle symptoms, she said.

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

The heart-attack study authors also examined another approach: whether the presence of female doctors and experience treating female patients made any difference to their male colleagues.

For patients treated by female physicians, 11.8 percent of men died against about 12 percent of women.

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However, for patients treated by male physicians, the gender gap in survival more than tripled to 0.7 percent. Maybe they're directly teaching their male colleagues how to diagnose or treat women with heart attacks. "Female physicians may communicate better, with less medical jargon". 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. "Improving outcomes for these patients relies on everyone working together effectively, and not just the physicians".

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