The doctor-patient relationship is a partnership

Tell-Tale Heart

We rely on doctors to help guide our health care, but it’s important to remember that the doctor-patient relationship is a partnership. If your doctor believes you’re fine, but in your heart you don’t really buy it, it’s up to you to press the point and insist that more concern be given to your specific needs.

A recent Canadian study demonstrates why women in particular need to be diligent and on the alert when it comes to heart health.

The alarm that fails

Do men get better health care than women?

I expect most doctors would answer “No” to that question. But a new study from Canada’s McMaster University suggests otherwise.

Sonia S. Anand, M.D., and her McMaster team analyzed data from a large trial that followed the progress of more than 12,000 men and women who had been treated for acute coronary syndromes (ACS). This set of heart conditions includes heart attack and angina (chest pain spasms caused by reduced oxygen to the heart).

Status of each patient was assessed at the time they were discharged from the hospital, and again one month later. Further assessments occurred at three-month intervals for nine months.

Results showed that even though women were more likely than men to develop a recurrence of angina and to be rehospitalized for chest pains, men underwent significantly more invasive procedures, including angiography, angioplasty and coronary artery bypass graft.

In a press release issued by McMaster University, Dr. Anand noted that, overall, 15 percent fewer women underwent angiography and 20 percent fewer high-risk women than high-risk men were given the test. Dr. Anand offered this comment about the probable outcome for women: “It may be that because they received fewer procedures and therefore interventions, they still have ongoing coronary disease.”

Turning on the juice

This insight into the specifics of heart health care should be noted by all women and their doctors. But it’s not enough to be aware of the problem. As Dr. Anand observes: “Women who develop acute coronary syndromes can ask their physicians if they are candidates for such procedures, as opposed to staying silent and leaving it up to the doctor to decide.”

I couldn’t agree more. But I would take that idea an important step further.

All patients who are up to the task will help their cause tremendously if they take an active role in their health care. Male or female, if you’ve been diagnosed with a serious condition such as angina, your chances of getting the best care will improve dramatically if you read up on your condition to understand its causes, symptoms and treatments. Then you’ll be ready for your doctor who’s much more likely to focus on your needs when you ask specific questions that demonstrate a high level of knowledge and concern.

Think of your doctor as a resource. You can flick the light switch from morning to night, but if you don’t take the initiative to call the power company to get the electricity turned on you’ll stay in the dark.

“Differences in the Management and Prognosis of Women and Men Who Suffer From Acute Coronary Syndromes” Journal of the American College of Cardiology, Vol. 46, No. 10, 11/15/05
“Women are Receiving Less Aggressive Treatment for Chest Pain and Heart Attacks than Men, Study Finds” McMaster University press release, 11/10/05,