Based on aggregated data from cardiac specialists across 41 hospitals in Australia, women who suffer ST-elevation myocardial infarction (Stemi), the most severe and potentially lethal form of heart attack are being treated inadequately before being released from hospital. They are also missing prescriptions to necessary preventive medications and referrals for cardiac rehabilitation.
By contrast, men admitted with the same condition are twice as likely to receive proper diagnostic tests and treatments. Women are also twice as likely to die or suffer additional heart problems within six months of leaving hospital the data conveyed.
Clara Chow, a cardiologist at Westmead hospital and the study’s senior author told The Guardian she was surprised and dismayed by the findings. “Women with serious heart attacks are being under-treated and it’s just not acceptable,” she said, further adding that she suspected “unconscious bias” in the health system was at least partially to blame.
Because of this, Australian women are more likely to consider themselves at low-risk of heart attacks and medical professionals less likely to issue appropriate care and treatment plans.
Cardiovascular disease however, is the leading killer of both men and women in Australia and across the world with women suffering Stemi at even greater risk of death. Given the same treatment protocols for men and women apply for this condition, researches had assumed that in “modern-day Australia we shouldn’t have differences in outcomes”.
While researchers pursue further analysis regarding discrepancies in treatment, Chow said any unconscious bias should be addressed immediately. “There might be places that this is even worse,” she said. “That’s what I’m worried about.”
The study used aggregated data from 2,898 patients (2,183 men, 715 women) who were patients of 28 metropolitan and 13 rural hospitals between 2009 and 2016. The average age of women examined was 67, while men was 61.
The study was published in the Medical Journal of Australia this morning.