Women suffering from heart attacks are two to three times more likely to survive if they are treated by a female doctor, according to a new study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Gender concordance between patients and physicians might have such a powerful effect because men and women experience different symptoms, especially for heart disease. Doctors may only take into consideration patients’ symptoms that also apply to them, meaning male doctors can miss more symptoms in female patients than their counterparts.
Dr. Sharonne Hayes, a cardiologist at the Mayo Women’s Heart Clinic, explained this phenomenon with heart attack victims. When a woman experiences a heart attack, she is less likely to have chest pain and more likely to have nausea or vomiting. A male doctor may not take these symptoms into consideration, as he could be more focused on detecting chest pain.
However, the study also discovered that male doctors with greater professional female exposure were more successful in treating their female and male patients; Mortality rates decreased as the exposure to female colleagues increased.
With this new information, we can now infer that the professional and personal qualities of female physicians can be both taught and learned. These qualities include the way they communicate with patients, as well as their abidance by clinical guidelines. Female physicians emphasize a partnership and patient participation. Meanwhile, male physicians mainly focus on facts, like the patient’s history and physical exam.
In order to resolve this success gap, we must focus future research on understanding why male physicians who have more exposure to female doctors have better patient survival rates, according to Hayes.
“Where’s the education coming from? Is it in the hallways and at the water cooler?” she asked. “Or are there policy changes and practice changes?”
Then, we must apply the findings to medical school educations.
“Understanding differences in how we need to care for men and women — particularly with heart disease – is something we should all be teaching our medical students... and incorporating in our daily practice," she emphasized.