It’s significant to note the research focused on outcomes in Florida where there may be cultural differences not representative of other parts of the United States or, indeed, the world.
In the United States, women are less likely than men to survive the years after a heart attack, even after accounting for age. And, according to a new study, that’s partly because of how women are treated—and the gender of the doctors who treat them.
Brad Greenwood, Seth Carnahan, and Laura Huang analyzed two decades of records from Florida emergency rooms, including every patient who had been admitted with a heart attack from 1991 to 2010. They showed that women are more likely to die when treated by male doctors, compared to either men treated by male doctors or women treated by female doctors.
“These results suggest a reason why gender inequality in heart attack mortality persists: Most physicians are male, and male physicians appear to have trouble treating female patients,” the team writes.
The male doctors in their study were better at treating women with heart attacks when they had more experience treating such patients—and especially when they worked in hospitals with more female doctors. This suggests that whatever female doctors are doing that’s better is also transferable. Maybe they’re changing ER protocols. Maybe they’re directly teaching their male colleagues how to diagnose or treat women with heart attacks. Either way, the study suggests that when the proportion of female physicians in an emergency department rises by 5 percent, the survival rates of the women treated there rise by 0.4 percentage points.
“This highlights the importance of ensuring a gender-diverse work environment,” says Vineet Arora from the University of Chicago, “and it suggests an intervention that can improve outcomes”—namely, hiring more women. “These findings suggest that female physicians are an asset not just for their patients, but for their male colleagues, too.”