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Women Are More Likely To Survive Heart Attacks If Their Doctor Is A Woman, Too

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A female doctor might be better than male doctors at treating female heart attack patients, according to a new study. It brings to light the issue of gender diversity in the emergency room.  ( Darko Stojanovic | Pixabay )

According to a new study, female heart attack patients are more likely to die in the emergency room if they see a male doctor instead of a female one.

Heart disease remains the number one killer of both men and women in the United States, though it's been shown that women are less likely to survive heart attacks. In 2016, the American Heart Association said 26 percent of women will die within a year of a heart attack, compared with just 19 percent of men.

Worse, the gap widens with time. Five years after a heart attack, nearly half of women die, compared with just 36 percent of men.

Heart Attack Gender Gap

This odd paradox at the heart of cardiovascular disease has boggled scientific minds for years, but the new study in question suggest that men, who account for majority of doctors, are worse at treating female heart attack patients than their female counterparts.

The study was published recently in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America.

The researchers studied census records of over half a million patients who visited an emergency room in Florida for heart attack complications from 1991 to 2010. The records included the patients' fates, and who their doctors were. The researchers used these names to identify the gender of the doctors, and they excluded gender-neutral names from the list just to be safe.

Females Are More Likely To Die Of Heart Attacks If Their Doctor Is Male

The baseline rate of someone dying from a heart attack while in the hospital was 11.9 percent. However, women treated by male doctors were 12 percent more likely to die than the average patient, and those who did survive ended up spending more time in the hospital before being released, implying worse medical care.

"This number seems small," said Seth Carnahan, a researcher at the Washington University and one of the authors of the study. "But, if the survival rate among the female heart attack patients treated by male doctors was the same as the survival rate among female heart attack patients treated by female doctors, about 1,500-3,000 fewer of the female heart attack patients in our sample would have passed away."

No such pattern occurred when it came to female doctors: the patients survived at roughly the same rate, no matter what their gender was. Also, women were more likely to survive if their doctor was a woman as well.

"I think what's critical to emphasize is the importance of understanding the diversity of the patient community and ensuring that the physician pool is diverse as well," said Brad Greenwood, another one of the study's authors and an associate professor of information and decision sciences at the University of Minnesota.

Gender difference and lack of diversity among doctors might not be the only culprit behind the gap in heart disease survival. Women often have heart attacks at an older age, which increases risk of a more severe one, and they are also more likely to ignore their symptoms and ultimately don't seek urgent care.

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