Here is a fun little fact to keep in mind should you ever find yourself doctor-shopping mid-cardiac-arrest: Women are less likely to survive a heart attack if they are treated by a man, according to new research.
Past research has shown that women are less likely than men to receive appropriate care during a heart attack, and are also significantly more likely to die as a result, reports The Guardian. Women are also more likely to be misdiagnosed following a heart attack. Experts have offered a few possible explanations—namely doctors’ unconscious gender bias and the misleading stereotype of a heart attack patient as a middle-aged man clutching his chest. (PSA: heart attack symptoms are probably not what you thought they were.)
This latest research, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, scoured records for nearly two decades of emergency department admissions, looking at patient and doctor demographics, as well as survival rates. Overall, nearly 12 percent of heart attack patients died in the hospital. But, as The Guardian reports, “when patients shared the same gender as their doctor, they were more likely to survive, with the probability of death falling by just over 0.6 percentage points.”
When the researchers dug further, though, they found that “men and women had similar chances of survival when they saw female doctors. But male doctors were linked to worse outcomes, particularly for women.” Women treated by men were “about 1.5 percentage points less likely to survive a heart attack than male patients in the care of female doctors.” Here’s where things get really interesting: “the more female patients a male doctor had previously treated for heart attacks, the better the chances of survival a woman had,” reports The Guardian.
The researchers offer up a simple explanation: “most physicians are male, and male physicians appear to have trouble treating female patients,” they write. That leaves a big question unanswered: Why do men have trouble treating women patients? Nonetheless, the researchers suggest a sensible solution to the inequity that they uncovered: hire more women doctors and train all doctors to recognize that heart disease is not a “male issue.”