A Researcher’s Guide to Physician Care and Gender Equity: Optimizing The Physician-Patient Experience

For women physicians, the gender gap contributes not only to lower salaries, but also to higher rates of burnout. On average, women physicians spend more time during each patient visit, often to counsel and educate patients, but this extra time has not historically been reflected in their pay. A recent Yale study analyzed electronic health records (EHR) to highlight work output differences between male and female physicians, and potentially improve policy development by enhancing patient treatment in ambulatory care.

Researchers used work relative value units (wRVUs) to measure the monetary value of health care services performed. They found that there was little difference between the number of wRVUs male versus female physicians made per patient visit. However, while male physicians went through more clinical hours and patient visits each month, female physicians spent more time with each patient. In 2021, a change in the Evaluation & Management (E/M) code played a significant role in closing the gap in compensation by altering how documentation gets factored into physician billing. The code allows physicians to be compensated based on the time spent in each visit, rather than just the complexity of care given. This change allows physicians, especially women, to provide patients with the counseling they need. 

Analyzing physician and practice characteristics, the team also found that teamwork could improve physician productivity. The researchers hope to shed light on policies that prioritize team-based interventions to create an environment where burnout is reduced and patient care is optimized. “[The physicians] have more support allow[ing] [them] to practice at the top of their licenses,” said Ted Melnick, associate professor of emergency medicine at Yale School of Medicine.

The next steps of this study focus on expanding their dataset nationwide to discover more factors that contribute to physician productivity such as inbox messaging and team stability. “Many think the most important part of hospital experience is the patient, and of course it’s super important, but it’s also essential we don’t [place] burnout [on] physicians,” said Huan Li, a Yale PhD student.