Study Identifies Significant Differences Between Female, Male Retina Specialists

A new study presented at the American Academy of Ophthalmology 2020 Virtual meeting has identified several real-world differences in the practices of female compared with male retina specialists.

Ravi Pandit, MD, MPH, assistant professor of ophthalmology at the Wilmer Eye Institute, and colleagues presented data on demographic, practice pattern, and clinical productivity differences between female and male specialists.

According to the poster, there is a growing amount of research describing gender disparities in various aspects of ophthalmology practice and advancement, including journal authorship, academic leadership, and National Institutes of Health funding. To further characterize gender differences in the subspecialty of vitreoretinal diseases, Dr. Pandit and colleagues identified physicians providing retina care using billing codes from a 2017 Medicare dataset and linked to their public profile on the America Board of Ophthalmology website.

The search identified 17,444 ophthalmologists participating in Medicare in 2017, of which 2,141 were retina specialists. Females comprised 15.4% of retina specialists compared with 24.7% of non-retina specialists (odds ratio [OR] for female retina specialist, 0.55; 95% confidence interval, 0.49-0.63; P<0.001). Females comprised 23.3% of medical retina specialists compared with 8.0% of surgical retina specialists (OR female surgical retina, 0.26; P<0.001).

Dr. Pandit and colleagues also found that female retina specialists were fewer years into practice compared with their male counterparts (12.2 vs. 16.6 years; P<0.001). This was true for medical retina specialists (13.2 vs. 18.1 years; P<0.001) and surgical retina specialists (9.6 vs. 15.8 years; P<0.001).

No geographic bias in retina specialist gender distribution was identified at the U.S. Census region level.

Additionally, a lower percentage of female retina specialists performed each common in-office retinal repair procedure and each medical retina procedure relative to their male counterparts. Female retina specialists also treated fewer Medicare beneficiaries (P<0.001), performed fewer services (P<0.001), performed fewer office visits (P<0.001), and collected less reimbursement (P<0.001).

“Further studies are needed to elucidate the basis and clinical impact of these differences,” Dr. Pandit and colleagues wrote. “Understanding the retina specialist workforce is critically important as the healthcare system confronts physician shortages and a growing burden of retinal disease.”