If you’re a woman and having a heart attack, a female doctor could make the difference between life and death, according to recent research from Harvard Business School (HBS) and Washington University’s Olin Business School. Based on their review of more than 500,000 heart attack patients admitted to hospital emergency departments in Florida between 1991 and 2010, female patients who were treated by male doctors were less likely to survive than patients of either gender treated by women.
Furthermore, the study found that just having female doctors around could make a difference. Survival rates among female heart attack victims treated by male physicians improved when there were more female physicians in the emergency department and more females patients in general.
HBS Associate Professor Laura Huang and her coauthors, Brad Greenwood from the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities and Seth Carnahan from Washington University in St. Louis, completed the research earlier this year. It was just published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).
According to the study, entitled “Patient-Physician Gender Concordance and Increased Mortality Among Female Heart Attack Patients,” there’s definitely gender inequality in heart attack mortality. “Most physicians are male, and male physicians appear to have trouble treating female patients,” write the authors. “The fact that gender concordance (that is, men treating men or women treating women) correlates with whether a patient survives a heart attack has implications for theory and practice.”
The authors go on to recommend that male practitioners be aware of the possible challenges they face when treating female patients. For example, male doctors should recognize the different symptoms that women present as well as the fact that they typically delay seeking treatment. In the end, they conclude that there is still work to be done to understand why gender plays a critical role in surviving a heart attack.
“Such research might include experimental interventions, or tests of more targeted training, to examine how exposing male physicians more thoroughly to the presentation of female patients might impact outcomes,” they write.
You can read a more thorough overview of the study by visiting the HBS website.