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Women are more likely to survive a heart attack if treated by a female doctor

A new study is calling for more women doctors to work in emergency wards

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Some of us have a preference for being seen by a doctor of one gender, particularly when it comes to intimate health issues. But a new study has revealed that, when it comes to certain conditions, whether your doctor is male or female could actually impact on your chances of survival. Researchers at the University of Minnesota have found that female heart attack patients are more likely to die when treated by a man rather than a woman. And the impact of this is so strong, just having more women doctors in the emergency room may increase a woman’s chance of survival.

emergency room© Photo: Getty Images

The study found women benefit from having more female doctors on emergency wards

The researchers studied emergency department admissions for heart attacks in the US state of Florida between the years 1991 and 2010. They found that, when all other factors had been accounted for, men and women had similar outcomes of survival when seen by a female doctor, whereas women suffered greater rates of death when seen by a male doctor. Female patients treated by male doctors were 1.5% less likely to survive a heart attack than those seen by a woman doctor.

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They also found that, even if a woman was treated by a male doctor, she was more likely to survive if the emergency department had a high number of women doctors who had previously treated heart attack patients working on it. Dr Brad Greenwood, associate professor of association and decision sciences at the university, suggested that the stereotype of heart attack victims as overweight, middle-aged men may contribute to the outcome.

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"One [reason] could be that female patients are more comfortable advocating for themselves with a female physician," he said. "[Or] it could be because women are more likely to present atypically and female physicians are better at picking up cues than their male colleagues." The study called for more women doctors on emergency wards, and for training to be improved so that heart attacks are not seen as a male-only issue.

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