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Women GPs earn less, more cost-effective

Female general practitioners in Australia are earning less than their male colleagues, not just because they are working fewer hours, but also because they are spending more time with patients.

04 Jul 2016

Female general practitioners in Australia are earning less than their male colleagues, not just because they are working fewer hours, but also because they are spending more time with patients.

Christopher Harrison, a senior researcher with the University of Sydney’s Family Medicine Research Centre, said that female GPs earn 6 per cent less per hour than their male peers, primarily because they spend longer in their consultations with patients.

Mr Harrison said that during these longer consultations, female GPs managed more problems for patients than their male peers, with the extra time and attention offered by women considered effective.

The research showed that even taking into consideration the age of both patients and doctor and the level of patient health, people who saw female GPs tended to see their doctor less often in a year.

“Female GPs squeeze more into their consultations with patients,” Mr Harrison said.

“They manage more problems per consultation, they are more likely to provide counselling to the patients, and are more likely to manage social problems that can affect patients’ health.

“Potentially, this can have very positive impacts and mean that their patients need to be seen less often.”

The research showed that female GPs on average worked 31.8 hours of clinical care per week, compared with their male counterparts, who worked 40.9 hours per week. Women GPs managed 1.63 problems per encounter, compared with 1.51 problems for male doctors.

They charged fewer standard MBS items (71.3 per cent compared with 77.6 per cent) and more long/prolonged MBS items (15 per cent compared with 8.9 per cent) and had significantly longer consultations (15.7 minutes compared with 14.1 minutes). They were also more likely to do non-billable work between encounters (14.1 per cent compared with 10.5 per cent).

Overall, the study found it took female GPs 28.5 hours to complete 100 encounters and they earn $4,926 ($173 per hour), while it took male GPs 25.3 hours, earning $4,647 ($184 per hour).

Mr Harrison and his team found there was evidence that while patients seeing female GPs visit their doctor less often in a year, they don’t use hospitals at a greater rate.

Female GPs’ use of pathology and counselling is still greater than male GPs, their use of referrals and imaging is similar to that of male GPs, while their use of medication is less overall.

“This suggests that the cost of care provided by female GPs may be less than that provided by male GPs,” the research found.

Mr Harrison said the research concluded that multiple factors beyond the number of hours worked contributed to the gender pay gap among Australian GPs, and that the inequity should be addressed as part of the Medicare Benefits Schedule item review and the Department of Health’s Primary Health Care Advisory Group.

The research was presented at the Primary Health Care Research and Information Service in Canberra in June.

Deb Vermeer


Published: 04 Jul 2016