Women Treated for Heart Attacks by Women Doctors Have Higher Survival Rates

If you’re having a heart attack and go to the emergency room, you’re obviously going to want the best care and treatment possible. Thanks to a new study, we now know that for women having a heart attack, that means having a female doctor, which appears to result in a significantly higher survival rate.

The research, published in journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, reviewed almost 582,000 heart attack cases over 19 years and found that female patients had a significantly higher survival rate when a female doctor treated them in the ER. Not only that, but women having heart attacks also survived more frequently when they were treated by male doctors who had a lot of female colleagues (although they didn’t fare as well as those treated by an actual female doctor). 

And while the authors mention that their results are in line with previous similar studies examining gender and patient outcomes, this one is different because of the life-or-death stakes. 

"You have highly trained experts with life or death on the line, and yet the gender match between the physician and the patient seems to matter a great deal," Dr. Seth Carnahan of Washington University in St. Louis and coauthor of the study, said in a statement.

The study looked at data measuring factors like the age, race, medical history of patients, hospital quality and more and found that female patients were less likely to survive heart attacks than male patients and that gender differences in survival rates were the highest under male physicians.

But what difference does the gender of doctors really make? For patients treated by male physicians, 12.6 percent of men died, while 13.3 percent of women died. However, only 11.8 percent of men and 12 percent of women died when care for by a female physician. 

"Our work corroborates prior research showing that female doctors tend to produce better patient outcomes than male doctors," Carnahan said in a statement. "The novel part of what we are doing is showing that the benefit of having a female doctor is particularly stark for a female patient."

In addition to that, the research also found that male doctors who had more female colleagues were less likely to exhibit "male bias" — generalizing men’s heart attack symptoms to women despite significant differences. According to Carnahan, this suggests that implementing medical training programs that are gender-neutral or that accurately show how heart attack symptoms in men and women differ could ultimately save more women’s lives. 

What’s also different about this particular study is that was coauthored by Brad Greenwood of the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities Carlson School of Management and Laura Huang of Harvard University’s Business School, who indicate that these findings can also apply in the business world because of the element on gender dynamics in the workplace. 

"Interpersonal interactions, whether they are between a doctor and patient or a manager and a subordinate, create the core of an organization," Carnahan said in a statement. "I’m very interested in how these interactions determine a firm’s performance and influence the lives of its managers, employees, and customers."

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