Women with heart disease live longer if they are treated by female doctors

WASHINGTON — Many have probably heard of “women’s intuition,” but does a woman’s perspective actually help female patients dealing with heart problems? A new review by researchers with the American College of Cardiology (ACC) finds women with heart disease live longer if they receive treatment from a female cardiologist.

The findings suggest female physicians deliver better patient results than their male colleagues. Study authors add women who are treated by a male physician are less likely to receive guideline-recommended care.

Despite making up more than half of the residents practicing internal medicine, women only represent 12.6 percent of cardiologists. The study shines more light on efforts to increase diversity in the field of cardiovascular disease.

“We must continue encouraging young physicians from diverse backgrounds to enter the field of cardiology in order for our physician workforce to more accurately reflect the gender composition of our overall patient population,” says senior study author Dr. Malissa Wood, co-director of the Corrigan Women’s Heart Health Program at Massachusetts General Hospital, in an ACC release.

“It is imperative that we ensure that all physicians provide the same level of high-quality care for all patients, regardless of gender. We need to incorporate comprehensive patient-centered communication and care into medical education.”

Gender differences lead to differences in patient care?

Researchers looked at 13 studies on the gender relationship between patients and physicians generally and how this might affect the care patients receive. Overall, the findings suggest a patient could fare better if they are treated by a physician of the same gender.

In one study, researchers discovered female patients with diabetes are less likely to receive intense treatment than male patients, particularly when under the care of a male doctor. Another shows mortality rates for heart attack patients are highest among female patients getting treatment from male physicians.

Study authors find if the attending physician is female however, mortality rates remain the same between men and women. On a positive note, the review finds that male physicians who have more exposure to female patients and physicians have more success in treating women.

Closing the gap in care

These differences could be due to multiple factors, but the researchers find they may partly relate to the differences in how heart disease presents itself in men and women. The team also noted the underrepresentation of females in clinical trials and the lack of women’s health training in U.S. medical education.

To combat these findings, the researchers propose three major recommendations:

  1. Increasing gender diversity in the physician workforce
  2. Improving gender and sex-specific medical training
  3. Boosting research on the role of gender in patient/physician relationships

“A better understanding of the mechanisms driving gender differences in patient outcomes, including whether patient-physician gender concordance truly impacts patient outcomes, can help guide targets for interventions,” Dr. Wood adds.

“More research is needed to understand the physician behaviors associated with improved patient outcomes, specifically in driving differential outcomes in gender patient-physician pairings, including drivers of implicit and explicit bias.”

The findings appear in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.

SWNS writer Laura Sharman contributed to this report.