MedicalResearch.com: What is the background for this study? What are the main findings?
Response: Financial relationships between biomedical industry and physicians are common, and previous work has investigated the potential conflicts of interest that can arise from these interactions.
Data show that even small payments in the form of industry sponsored lunches can influence physician prescribing patterns. Given the concern for the potential influence of biomedical industry over practice patterns and potentially patient care, the Open Payments program was implemented under the Affordable Care Act to shed light on these interactions and make reports of these financial transactions publicly available. We recently published a paper in JAMA on industry payments to physicians that found that men received a higher value and greater number of payments than women physicians and were more likely to receive royalty or licensing payments when grouped by type of specialty (surgeons, primary care, specialists, interventionalists).
The purpose of the Research Letter discussed here was to further examine differences in the value of payments received by male and female physicians within each individual specialty. The main takeaway from this study is that male physicians, across almost every specialty, are receive more money from biomedical industry compared to female physicians. At first glance, this finding can be interpreted as merely another example of gender disparities in the workplace, which we have seen before with gender gaps in physician salaries and research funding. Indeed, this gender gap may be a product of industry bias leading to unequal opportunity for women to engage in these profitable relationships. Alternatively, these data may be more representative of gender differences in physician decision-making. Previous data has shown that industry engagement can lead to changes in practice patterns, so maybe female physicians acknowledge these conflicts of interest and actively choose not to engage with industry. Unfortunately, we cannot tease out these subtleties from our results, but our paper does reveal a remarkable gender difference among physician engagement with industry.