Women doctors 'best for female heart patients'

Male doctors are believed to misdiagnose heart problems for women or underestimate their risks

According to their findings in "Patient-Physician Gender Concordance and Increased Mortality Among Female Heart Attack Patients", of more than 500,000 heart attack patients admitted to hospital emergency departments in Florida between 1991 and 2010, female patients treated by male physicians were less likely to survive than patients of either gender treated by female physicians or male patients treated by male physicians.

The baseline rate of someone dying from their heart attack while in the hospital was 11.9 per cent.

That said, the gender difference in doctors probably doesn't explain the entire gap in heart disease survival. The records not only detailed the patients' ultimate fates, but also provided the names of their attending doctors, which the researchers used to figure out their gender.

Women suffering from a heart attack are more likely to wait before seeking medical treatment and are less likely to be taken to a properly-equipped hospital, making them almost twice as likely (12 percent) to die in the hospital than men.

It can not prove it was the presence of female doctors that caused the improved survival rates.

But the gap grew starkly when the doctor was a man - 13.3 per cent of women died and 12.6 per cent of men.

"It's important that we better understand what is causing this variation in care".

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.

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Women are more likely to have a "silent" heart attack or to display unusual symptoms.

Female doctors may also simply be performing at least some parts of the job better than their male counterparts do. These more atypical symptoms can include shortness of breath, nausea and vomiting, and back or jaw pain.

Previous studies based on data from Australia and Sweden have revealed that men and women experience different care if they have a heart attack, while United Kingdom research has shown women are more likely to be misdiagnosed.

When men are having a heart attack, their chest pain tends to make it obvious. 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.

The study's findings do suggest some tangible ways to improve care. "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.

"I think what's critical to emphasise is the importance of understanding the diversity of the patient community and ensuring that the physician pool is diverse as well, because we do see that when more female colleagues are present, the effect begins to ameliorate".

"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 the team.

At the same time, the authors stop short of advocating that patients necessarily ask for their doctors to match their gender. "Patients should be sure that the doctor, regardless of gender, is taking seriously their concerns".

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