Association between physician characteristics and payments from industry in 2015-2017: observational study

BMJ Open. 2019 Sep 20;9(9):e031010. doi: 10.1136/bmjopen-2019-031010.


Objective: To investigate the association between physician characteristics and the value of industry payments.

Design: Observational study.

Setting and participants: Using the 2015-2017 Open Payments reports of industry payments linked to the Physician Compare database, we examined the association between physician characteristics (physician sex, years in practice, medical school attended and specialty) and the industry payment value, adjusting for other physician characteristic and institution fixed effects (effectively comparing physicians practicing at the same institution).

Main outcome measures: Our primary outcome was the value of total industry payments to physicians including (1) general payments (all forms of payments other than those classified for research purpose, eg, consulting fees, food, beverage), (2) research payments (payments for research endeavours under a written contract or protocol) and (3) ownership interests (eg, stock or stock options, bonds). We also investigated each category of payment separately.

Results: Of 544 264 physicians treating Medicare beneficiaries, a total of $5.8 billion in industry payments were made to 365 801 physicians during 2015-2017. The top 5% of physicians, by cumulative payments, accounted for 91% of industry payments. Within the same institution, male physicians, physicians with 21-30 years in practice and physicians who attended top 50 US medical schools (based on the research ranking) received higher industry payments. Across specialties, orthopaedic surgeons, neurosurgeons and endocrinologists received the highest payments. When we investigated individual types of payment, we found that orthopaedic surgeons received the highest general payments; haematologists/oncologists were the most likely to receive research payments and surgeons were the most likely to receive ownership interests compared with other types of physicians.

Conclusions: Industry payments to physicians were highly concentrated among a small number of physicians. Male sex, longer length of time in clinical practice, graduated from a top-ranked US medical school and practicing certain specialties, were independently associated with higher industry payments.

Keywords: medicare beneficiaries; open payments; physician characteristics; physician compare.

Publication types

  • Observational Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Drug Industry / economics
  • Equipment and Supplies*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Industry / economics*
  • Male
  • Medicaid
  • Medicare
  • Physicians / economics*
  • Time Factors
  • United States