Female patients’ mortality rates also decreased when their male doctors had more female colleagues — and more experience treating female patients, a new study shows.
Get this woman a woman — stat.
Female heart attack patients have better survival rates when they’re treated by female doctors than they do with male doctors, according to a new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. What’s more, female patients’ mortality rates decreased when their male doctors had more female colleagues — and when they had more experience treating female patients.
Women are less likely than men to survive heart attacks: One in three women dies of a heart attack each year, compared to one in four men. Meanwhile, the number of male physicians in the U.S. is nearly double that of female physicians.
“These results suggest a reason why gender inequality in heart attack mortality persists: Most physicians are male, and male physicians appear to have trouble treating female patients,” wrote study co-authors Brad Greenwood, Seth Carnahan and Laura Huang.
The researchers analyzed a census of more than 500,000 heart attack patients admitted to Florida hospital emergency departments from 1991 to 2010. Female patients treated by male physicians had a higher mortality rate, they found, and “male patients and female patients experience similar outcomes when treated by female physicians, suggesting that unique challenges arise when male physicians treat female patients.” Male doctors with greater exposure to female physicians and patients, meanwhile, saw better results in treating women.
Unpacking the exact mechanism behind these findings will require further study, the authors suggested. “Such research might include experimental interventions, or tests of more targeted training, to examine how exposing male physicians more thoroughly to the presentation of female patients might impact outcomes,” they wrote.
The research adds to a broader literature surrounding gender disparity in heart attacks: 26% of women will die within a year of having a heart attack, compared to 19% of men, according to the American Heart Association — and that gap expands to 47% of women versus 36% of men within five years. A study published in February showed doctors are more likely to disregard heart attack symptoms in women.
Previous research has also suggested that women doctors tend to outperform their male counterparts. “If female patients tend to be more challenging for male and female doctors to diagnose and treat,” the authors of the present study wrote, “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).”
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