Why do female primary care docs get less pay? It could be because they're spending more time with patients

primary care
After adjusting for the physician, patient, and visit characteristics, female PCPs generated equal revenue but spend 15.7%—or about 2.4 minutes—more time per visit with individual patients than their male counterparts, a new study found. (Getty/Milkos)

The gender gap in physician pay is often attributed in part to women working fewer hours than men. 

But it turns out, the disparity in pay may actually be attributed to the amount of time female primary care docs spend with their patients, according to a new study published in the New England Journal of Medicine. The study was funded in part by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Conducted by researchers at the University of Minnesota, Harvard Medical School and athenahealth, Inc., the study found found female primary care doctors generated 10.9% less revenue from office visits than male primary are doctors and conducted 10.8% fewer visits over over 2.7% fewer clinical days.

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But, adjusting for for age, academic degree, specialty, and number of sessions worked per week, it also found those female PCP's were spending 2.6% more observed time in visits that year than their male counterparts.

RELATED: Gender gap averages more than $36K for physicians starting their careers, new study finds

After adjusting for the physician, patient, and visit characteristics, female PCPs generated equal revenue but spend 15.7%—or about 2.4 minutes—more time per visit with individual patients than their male counterparts.

“It all comes down to time,” said study co-lead and senior author Hannah Neprash, an assistant professor at the University of Minnesota's School of Public Health. “The disconnect between time spent and revenue generated may help to explain why female physicians—especially PCPs—face greater potential for job burnout. For example, female PCPs may experience declining morale because they may want to spend extra time with their patients; feel pressure from their employers to treat more people; and earn less money despite doing more work.” 

The gender gap in physician pay has been a persistent and growing problem in recent years. According to the Medscape Physician Compensation Report 2020 released in May, male primary care physicians earn $264,000 on average compared to the $212,000 earned by female primary care physicians. 

It's not the only specialty that sees a pay gap. Another study published in Health Affairs in January found the average starting compensation across all specialties, for male physicians was more than $36,000 higher than their female counterparts.

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