Having written about both cardiologists and women in the last week, I can hardly resist this report of research which apparently shows that patients are more likely to survive a heart attack if they are treated by female doctor. And, as I'll get to later, I have a particular interest in this topic.
The headline is a little sensationalist in that it focuses on female patients whereas the findings are actually more about gender congruence, with the main take-aways being that when a female patient is treated by a male doctor, the outlook is not so good; but male doctors who work more regularly with women colleagues have more success treating female patients than their peers.
The article rightly makes the point that: “It’s important to not get caught up in the idea that women are better doctors...it’s not a men-against-women kind of thing, it’s what are the best practice styles and how can we teach them.”
As for the explanation for the varying outcomes? The article doesn't provide all the answers, but it does point to differences in women's cardiac symptoms which are harder to pick up by the less empathetic doctor, a challenge that is compounded when the patient doesn't conform to the stereotype that heart attacks only happen to fat middle-aged men.
There's a reminder here for mediators and conflict management professionals too. Simply asking for "just the facts, ma'am" may have worked for Joe Friday in Dragnet but it doesn't get you to the heart of the problem. And neither does jumping to conclusions based on the nature of the patient. Which is why we need to focus on exploration rather than naive diagnosis.
And as for the finding that male doctors' performance improves if they work more regularly with women colleagues, the good news is that at least it shows that we can learn from each other, and that there is value in a diversity of approach in any peer group.
In December 2013 Graham Massie was treated by two cardiologists, one male and one female, at Delray Medical Centre, Florida, winner of the America’s 50 Best Hospitals™ Award. The woman collected the Award as she was the boss.
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Much like shoes or skinny jeans, heart attacks can fit women a little differently than men. Their symptoms don’t always look the same, and for a meshwork of reasons, physicians all too often fail to diagnose heart attacks in women with enough time to intervene. The consequence: Women are more likely to die from heart attacks than men are. But, according to a new study, not if they’re treated by female doctors.