Heart disease is the leading cause of death for women in the United States, according to the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
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And previous research has shown that when it comes to medical care for one of the major symptoms of heart disease − heart attack − women fare much worse compared to men.
In fact, in a study of 180,368 Swedish patients who had experienced a heart attack between Jan. 1, 2003, and Dec. 31, 2013, women were three times more likely than men to die in the year following the attack.
Now, a new review from faculty members at the Washington University in St. Louis, Minnesota University and Harvard University suggests women experiencing heart attacks have a significantly higher survival rate when treated by a female doctor in the emergency room.
"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," Seth Carnahan, associate professor of strategy at Olin Business School at Washington University, said in a university article.
The Olin study, recently published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, featured nearly 582,000 heart attack cases over 19 years. Researchers reviewed anonymous medical data from Florida hospitals from 1991 to 2010 and accounted for factors such as age, race, hospital quality, medical history and more.
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Even when those factors were considered, the differences in survival rates for men and women were greatest under male physicians. And, as previous research has noted, the Olin analysis also found female doctors tend to produce better patient outcomes overall than male doctors.
When treated by female physicians, researchers found 11.8 percent of men in their sample died versus 12 percent of women, a 0.2 percent gender disparity.
That gender gap in survival rates more than tripled (0.7 percent) for patients treated by male physicians. About 12.6 percent of men died under male physician care compared to 13.3 percent of women — that’s 1,500 more deaths for women.
“Having training programs that are more gender neutral, or showing how men and women might present symptoms differently, could improve outcomes for female patients,” Carnahan said.
But, he said, the medical review's findings have a relevant business connection beyond clinical settings when it comes to gender differences 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," he said. "I'm very interested in how these interactions determine a firm's performance and influence the lives of its managers, employees, and customers."
Carnahan and his colleagues have also documented how female lawyers working for politically conservative male law partners are less likely to advance in their careers at the organization.