Extra visit time with patients may explain wage gap for female physicians

September 30, 2020

A new study led by researchers from Brigham and Women's Hospital and the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis sheds light on why female primary care physicians receive lower wages than their male counterparts. The study found that female PCPs generated 11 percent less revenue due to conducting 11 percent fewer visits in a year (doctors are largely paid by the visit). But while previous studies based on surveys have suggested that this wage gap is due, in part, to female physicians working fewer hours than male physicians, the new study finds just the opposite: Female physicians spent more time with their patients per visit, per day, and per year. Results are published in The New England Journal of Medicine.

"When talking about the gender wage gap, researchers have long assumed that women are working fewer hours, or that they're working part time," said first author Ishani Ganguli, MD, MPH, a health policy researcher and assistant professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School and the Brigham's Division of General Internal Medicine and Primary Care. "Yet when we compared just the time doctors spent face to face with patients alone, women physicians, in fact, spent more time than their male counterparts despite making 87 cents to the dollar for that work."

The research team gathered nationwide data on the gender pay gap between female and male physicians, observing visit revenue, visit counts, days worked, and visit time for 24.4 million primary care office visits across the United States during 2017. The team used electronic health records, including detailed time data, provided by athenahealth, a technology company that provides electronic health records software, that allowed them to compare female and male physician visits within the same practices. The team controlled for age of physician, degree level, specialty, and number of sessions worked per week as well as for characteristics of the patients and visits they were studying. By doing so, the study was able to capture a more nuanced portrait of female and male physicians' daily practices than previous studies.

The researchers found that female PCPs generated 11 percent less revenue and conducted 11 percent fewer visits over just 2.6 fewer clinical days per year. However, female PCPs spent 1200 more minutes with patients per year, or 2.4 more minutes per visit on average, than their male counterparts.

"Our findings provide more evidence that our current system of paying doctors based on the volume of services they provide is a flawed measure of work effort," said senior author Hannah Neprash, PhD, a health economist at the University of Minnesota's School of Public Health. "Female physicians report the highest rates of burnout and our findings may help explain why. If longer visits contribute to feelings of time pressure and a chaotic work environment - for lower pay - it's understandable that job satisfaction might be lower."

The researchers were unable to explore whether this increase in time spent per patient improved patient outcomes and/or patient care. Additional limitations include the authors did not have information on physicians with non-binary gender identities and the study focused on using athenahealth as the sole data source.

"All doctors, especially in primary care, want more time with their patients," said Ganguli. "What we're seeing is that female doctors seem to spend more time but at a personal cost."
This work was supported in part by a grant (73623) from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Disclosure forms provided by the authors are available with the full text of this article at NEJM.org.

Paper Cited: Ganguli, I. et al. "Physician Work Hours and the Gender Pay Gap -- Evidence from Primary Care" New England Journal of Medicine DOI: 10.1056/NEJMsa2013804

Brigham and Women's Hospital

Related Primary Care Articles from Brightsurf:

Six ways primary care "medical homes" are lowering health care spending
New analysis of 394 U.S. primary care practices identifies the aspects of care delivery that are associated with lower health care spending and lower utilization of emergency care and hospital admissions.

Continuity of English primary care has worsened with GP expansions
A new study published by the British Journal of General Practice has found that patients' abilities to see their preferred GP has fallen greater in English practices that have expanded, compared with those that stayed about the same size.

Primary care office-based vs telemedicine care visits during COVID-19 pandemic
This observational study quantified national changes in the volume, type and content of primary care delivered during the COVID-19 pandemic, especially with regard to office-based visits compared with telemedicine encounters.

Expenditures for primary care may affect how primary care is delivered
This study looks at trends in out-of-pocket and total visit expenditures for visits to primary care physicians.

Primary care clinicians drove increasing use of Medicare's chronic care management codes
To address the problem of care fragmentation for Medicare recipients with multiple chronic conditions, Medicare introduced Chronic Care Management (CCM) in 2015 to reimburse clinicians for care management and coordination.

Primary care at a crossroads: Experts call for change
Primary care providers have experienced a rise in responsibilities with little or no increase in the time they have to get it all done, or reduction in the number of patients assigned to them.

Primary care physicians during the COVID-19 epidemic
Scientists from the University of Geneva has analysed clinical data from more than 1,500 ambulatory patients tested for COVID-19.

The five phases of pandemic care for primary care
The authors present a roadmap for necessary primary care practice transformations to care for patients and communities during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Women almost twice as likely to choose primary care as men
Analysis of osteopathic medical school survey data reveals women are 1.75 times more likely to choose primary care than men, according to a study in The Journal of the American Osteopathic Association.

Spending on primary care vs. other US health care expenditures
National health care survey data were used to assess the amount of money spent on primary care relative to other areas of health care spending in the US from 2002 to 2016.

Read More: Primary Care News and Primary Care Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.