August 15, 2018

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

09 August 2018, 01:24 | Silvia Roy

AFP File | Almost 12 percent of patients die when rushed for emergency treatment for a heart attack

AFP  File | Almost 12 percent of patients die when rushed for emergency treatment for a heart attack

"It seems that the female doctors practice in a better way or outperform male doctors", says the JAMA study's first author, Yusuke Tsugawa, an assistant professor of medicine at the David Geffen School of Medicine at University of California, Los Angeles. Women who were misdiagnosed and sent home would not have been counted in the analysis.

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.

Intriguingly, women treated by a male doctor were more likely to survive if there were many female physicians in the ER.

"But even here, we see a glass ceiling on life".

Previous research has found better outcomes among hospitalized Medicare patients treated by women, but the underlying reasons remain murky at best.

That's why new research out of Harvard Business School isn't totally surprising.

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"Female physicians may follow clinical guidelines more often", he said in the post. Women doctors, in 2017, earned 27.7 percent less than their male counterparts, an average of $105,000 less a year. Again, that fits with earlier studies, and with what Healy wrote about in 1991.

"Women's symptoms tend to be more subtle and may be more ambiguous", the Mayo Clinic states in a Q & A on the topic. Decades of sex-biased research means that these symptoms are seen as "atypical".

It can not prove it was the presence of female doctors that caused the improved survival rates. But it's still pretty fascinating and may even have implications for how doctors are educated in the future, especially with regard to heart disease.

Greenwood and Huang doubt that these differences are driven by explicit sexism.

"Having training programs that are more gender neutral, or showing how men and women might present symptoms differently, could improve outcomes for female patients", Carnahan said. Male doctors who treated more female patients in the recent past, or who had more female colleagues, had female patients with higher survival rates, indicating that experience - whether hands-on or through observing colleagues - can make a difference.

But when female physicians took charge of treatment, those percentages fell - to 11.8% of men and 12% of women.

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Also, given the gender bias in outcomes, hospital administrators may also want to narrow the pay gap between male and female doctors.

That's exactly what Greenwood, Carnahan, and Huang found.

Carnahan, along with his team of researchers from the Minnesota Twin Cities University and Harvard University, examined over 500,000 heart attack cases occurred in Florida over the span of 19 years and discovered that the women had a higher chance of survival from a heart attack when a female doctor attended her in the emergency room while they are 12% more likely to die when treated by a male doctor, said Carnahan. "Female physicians may communicate better, with less medical jargon". Maybe they're changing ER protocols.

GRAPHIC: A graphic lists symptoms of heart attacks in women. And, of course, given how the female doctors fared with all patients (along with research elsewhere), it could be the case that male doctors simply aren't as skilled in general.

"While this study supports this theory, more research is needed in United Kingdom hospitals to see if the bias exists here". "These findings suggest that female physicians are an asset not just for their patients, but for their male colleagues, too".

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