by Charles Ornstein
ProPublica, Oct. 8, 2014, 11 a.m.
This story was co-published with The New York Times’ The Upshot.
More than 90 percent of the 300 doctors who collected the most money for speaking and consulting are men, based on information from the new government database, called Open Payments. By comparison, men accounted for about 68 percent of active physicians in the United States in 2012, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges.
What we found adds to a growing body of evidence that male and female doctors are paid differently and may in fact practice medicine differently, though the reasons for the discrepancy are not completely clear. It’s possible that men are more willing to accept payments from drug companies than women. It’s possible that drug companies are more likely to make offers to male doctors. Or it’s possible that male doctors are simply much more likely to be in the senior positions or medical specialties that appeal to drug companies.
But even in primary care fields, men dominated the list of the 300 highest-paid speakers and consultants in Open Payments. Of the 91 internists, just 12 percent were women. Nationally, women made up 34 percent of internists in 2010. There were five obstetrician-gynecologists on the list; all were men.
There are plenty of caveats regarding the new federal data. It covers only the last five months of 2013, and more than one-third of speaking and consulting payments are missing the names of those who received them. (The government redacted the names, citing data inconsistencies.)
That said, the broad finding is consistent with Dollars for Docs, ProPublica’s online search tool that reflects payments made by 17 drug companies over four years. The overwhelming majority of large payments for speaking and consulting went to men. In an analysis we performed last year, 21 of the 22 doctors who earned more than $500,000 in speaking and consulting fees were men.