Female heart attack patients likely to survive if treated by women doctors

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Women suffering from a heart attack seem to have a better chance of survival if they're treated by a female doctor, according to a new study in PNAS. Livestrong states that heart attacks in women can sometimes be hard to diagnose because many women don't believe they are having a heart attack and don't experience the same symptoms as men.

The researchers divided 500,000-plus cases into four categories: male doctors treating men; male doctors treating women; female doctors treating men; and female doctors treating women.

Researchers looked at 580,000 heart attack cases and found that almost 12% of patients had died in the hospital, The Guardian reports.

The reason why, the study's authors suggest: Myths about heart disease as a "male" condition may color how male doctors treat women facing the top cause of death in the United States for men and women. Researchers, in this study, didn't directly observe the doctors in action, but they did account for patient age, health and other factors that could affect outcomes.

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

Although it is evident 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", Dr. Jha said.

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.

After reviewing about half a million patients in the Florida Hospital database from 1990 to 2011, the researchers found that women treated in emergency departments were 5.4 percent more likely to survive heart attacks - or acute myocardial infarction - if the treating physician was also a woman.

While the most common symptoms of heart attacks in both the genders is chest pain or discomfort, sometimes both can experience different symptoms before experiencing a heart attack which the female doctors are able to identify faster, said Seth Carnahan of Washington University and one of the authors of the study.

The research is similar to another Carnahan-Greenwood collaboration documenting how female lawyers were less likely to advance in their firms with promotions and plum assignments when they worked for politically conservative male law partners.

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.

Their chances were also improved if treated by a male doctor who had a lot of female colleagues in his team.

These findings represent a "fundamental catch-22 for medical providers and female patients", wrote the authors.

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. They extrapolated their findings a bit, and concluded that some 32,000 lives would be saved if male physicians could achieve the same outcomes as female physicians every year.