By Lucas Laursen
August 7, 2018

Diversity may save lives.

Female heart attack patients treated by female doctors were between two and three times likelier to survive than female patients treated by male doctors, according to a study covering almost two decades of hospitalizations in Florida.

The study, published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), is part of a growing body of work exploring how a doctor’s identity shapes the health of their patients. For example, while female doctors have better outcomes when treating both male and female patients, the biggest gains happen when they treat females. This concept, concordance, may also apply to ethnicity.

Concordance might be good for your health because symptoms differ across groups and many doctors may only look for those that apply to them. For example, women can experience different heart attack symptoms from those experienced by men. Another reason might be improved communication and trust between doctor and patients.

That doesn’t mean we can only be healthy if our doctor looks just like us. Some of the things that seem to set apart many female doctors today, from how they communicate with patients to their willingness to follow clinical guidelines, are possible to learn and teach to future generations of both male and female doctors, physician and University of California, Davis, researcher Klea Bertakis told Stat News.

The heart-attack study authors also examined another approach: whether the presence of female doctors and experience treating female patients made any difference to their male colleagues. The results? Male doctors who had more exposure to female colleagues and patients were slightly more successful in helping their female patients to survive, and the effect grew with the presence of more females. That could mean there’s hope for spreading healthy practices across all groups of doctors.

 

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