When Dr. Elliott Haut and his team at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore designed their blood clot prevention protocol back in 2006, they didn't expect to discover systemic gender bias. But the data were clear and the implications were alarming: Women who were trauma patients at Johns Hopkins Hospital were in considerably greater danger of dying of preventable blood clots than men.
Why? Because doctors were less likely to provide them with the appropriate blood clot prevention treatment. At Hopkins, as at many hospitals, both men and women were receiving treatment at less than perfect rates, but while 31 percent of male trauma patients were failing to get proper clot prevention, for women, the rate was 45 percent. That means women were nearly 50 percent more likely to miss out on blood clot prevention.
Blood clots, gelatinous tangles that can travel through the body and block blood flow, kill more people every year than breast cancer, AIDS and car crashes combined. But many of these clots can be avoided — if doctors prescribe the right preventive measures.
Haut is a trauma surgeon, not a bias expert, so gender disparities were the last thing on his mind when he and his team put together a computerized checklist that requires doctors to review blood clot prevention for every patient. "Our goal was not to improve care for men or women or whoever, it was to improve the care of everybody," he said. But what they found was that after the introduction of the checklist, appropriate treatment for everyone spiked. And the gender disparity disappeared.