Heart attack patients are less likely to die if leading cardiologists are away, research suggests.
Scientists discovered survival rates at hospitals are higher when top heart doctors are attending medical conferences.
Harvard Medical School researchers have now warned that doctors who go to large gatherings use more intensive procedures.
The findings, dubbed an ‘unfortunate paradox’, raise questions about the type of care some cardiologists provide patients.
Lead author, Dr Anupam Jenner, said: ‘Which doctor treats you does matter.
‘The types of doctors who attend these meetings seem to provide different care, at least for a subgroup of patients.
‘This is an unfortunate paradox given that professional conferences are designed to actually makes us better physicians and improve the care we deliver.’
Researchers examined 30-day survival rates from scores of patients to make the conclusion.
They were admitted to hospital while their doctors were at last year’s Transcatheter Cardiovascular Therapeutics meeting in Denver.
An analysis revealed 16.7 per cent of patients died within 30 days of admission when the cardiologist was at hospital.
In contrast, when the specialist was away survival rates dropped down to just 15.3 per cent.
An even bigger difference was noted for patients whose heart attack did not require immediate stenting – to widen arteries.
Some 19.5 per cent died when they received care on non-meeting dates, compared to the 16.9 per cent when cardiologists were away.
The findings, published in the Journal of the American Heart Association, suggest that certain cardiologists that attend the large gathering each year provide different care.
Researchers claim those cardiologists attending the conference are more likely to skip on open-heart surgery in favour of minimally invasive procedures.
And Dr Jena claimed they are worse at providing non-procedural care.
He said: ‘If doctors focus their attention on a particular kind of procedure, they might not develop other clinical skills that are as important to influencing outcomes as is knowledge of a specific procedure.
‘Treating a cardiac patient isn’t just about cardiac issues – it’s about other factors that the patient brings to the hospital.’
‘Many medical interventions deliver no mortality benefit, and the fact that mortality actually falls for heart attack patients during these conference dates raises important questions about how care might differ during these periods.
The study also back-ups an earlier study, also led by Dr Jena.
She found in 2013 that cardiac arrest and heart failure patients fared better on the dates of two large meetings for cardiologists.
The difference in survival was also blamed on the fact that cardiologists who attend the gatherings are more likely to use intensive interventions.