UT Prof: Gender a Factor in Bypass Surgeries

A University of Tennessee professor has published a study that found gender bias in who receives heart bypass surgery.

The study by Cheryl B. Travis, professor of psychology and chair of women’s studies at UT, was published in the latest issue of Psychology of Women Quarterly. It shows that men are twice as likely to have heart bypass surgery as women with comparable medical problems.

Her study examined the reasons behind the discrepancy by using patient information from the National Hospital Discharge Survey for 1988 and 1998.

In 1988, 12 percent of female patients who had profiles consistent with the bypass surgery received it, compared to 24 percent of men.

In 1998, among similar types of patients, 20 percent of females received heart bypass, compared to 33 percent of men. Data showed that among patients with heart attacks who received bypass, there were only 59 women recipients for every 100 men.

The relative odds of a woman meeting the criteria but not receiving the surgery were approximately double that of comparable men.

“There is compelling evidence of gender bias and a general failure to treat women in a proactive manner that extended over a decade,” Travis said.

Four common explanations for this, she said, are that women do not have the appropriate diagnoses; they have complicating conditions that make them poor risks; they are too elderly and frail to benefit; and the surgery carries a greater risk of mortality for women.

“None of these explanations was supported, suggesting that the real explanation may be a gender bias,” Travis said.

Her study shows that women with co-morbid conditions such as diabetes or hypertension were found to have significantly more conservative treatment decisions than men with the same conditions.

Travis said medical literature typically has reported a higher risk of mortality among women patients, but always in comparison to men.

“For purposes of women’s decision making, mortality risk should be considered as it’s assessed among and referenced to women with comparable medical profiles,” she said.

Psychology of Women Quarterly features qualitative and quantitative research with substantive and theoretical merit, along with critical reviews, theoretical articles, and invited book reviews related to the psychology of women and gender.