In Women's Heart Attacks, a Doctor's Gender Matters

08 Août, 2018, 05:06 | Auteur: Yves Courtet
  • A doctor holds her stethoscope in an outpatients ward

'Our work corroborates prior research showing that female doctors tend to produce better patient outcomes than male doctors, ' said Seth Carnahan, a co-author of the study from Washington University in St Louis.

The study was based on more than 500,000 patients admitted to hospital emergency departments for acute myocardial infarction - a medical term for heart attack - in Florida between 1991 and 2010.

"We find that gender concordance increases a patient's probability of surviving a [heart attack] and that the effect is driven by increased mortality when male physicians treat female patients", said Dr Brad Greenwood, associate professor of information and decision sciences at the University of Minnesota.

The team analyzed almost two decades of records for every patient admitted to Florida emergency rooms with a heart attack between 1991 and 2010. Finding these differences are important because a large body of research shows that women are less likely to survive heart attacks, in general.

"Most physicians are male, and male physicians appear to have trouble treating female patients", said the report.

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.

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. In addition, the more female patients a male doctor had previously treated for heart attacks, the better the chances of survival a woman had.

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

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.

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. Dr. Robert H. Shmerling, who is the author of the Harvard Health Publishing blog post "Does your doctor's gender matter?" wrote about a few more reasons. Given the cost of male physicians' learning on the job, it may be more effective to increase the presence of female physicians within the emergency department. "Male physicians may be less "deliberate" in addressing complicated patients' problems (as suggested by past research)".

And because heart attacks come about suddenly, patients are rarely able to choose their doctor - or his or her gender - when entering an emergency department. This statistic does not signal well to gender equality in medicine or young women considering the specialty-and it may have even darker implications for patients.

Although it is helpful to keep these findings in mind, no one should wait to be treated in an emergency situation - especially with heart attacks where early treatment matters.

Among patients who survived, women treated by male doctors spent more time in the hospital before being released, further suggesting worse medical care.

Aditi Vyas, M.D. specializes in radiology and occupational and environmental medicine and is a resident in the ABC Medical Unit.

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