Hospitals in California and elsewhere are paying pharmacy technicians more than $13 an hour, and the doctors they work for are paying as much as $15 an hour.
The disparity between the pay of pharmacy technicians and doctors is one of the biggest challenges for health care companies that face a growing demand for more patients.
Hospitals, which charge patients a fee for the drug they prescribe, are under pressure from patients who want more drugs, said David Hennigan, a vice president at health care consulting firm Deloitte, which has done research on the issue.
Some patients are getting better with the drug, he said, but more patients are going to need more.
He expects that will lead to more turnover.
“When we look at the demographics of patients in need, that has changed,” he said.
The pay discrepancy is troubling for hospitals, which face a challenge recruiting and retaining highly qualified employees.
The average annual pay for a pharmacy technician is $28,000, compared with $53,000 for a doctor.
The difference is partly due to the relatively small number of doctors who work for pharmacies.
“They are not as well compensated as doctors are,” said Mark Zandi, a professor of health care management at the University of California, Los Angeles, who studies compensation at hospitals.
The biggest employers in California are hospitals, where nurses make up about 30 percent of the workforce and pharmacy technicians make up the rest.
Pharmacists make up another 12 percent.
The pay gap is bigger in some other states, including Illinois, Michigan and California, said Zandi.
The average pay for an associate pharmacy technician in California is $22,000.
For a doctor in the same position, the average annual wage is $35,000 and for an assistant pharmacy technician, $39,000., said Hennigans.
Hennigans said many of the employees in hospitals are underpaid because they don’t have the training or experience to be as skilled as doctors or nurses, and they have to be more flexible.
The shortages of physicians, nurses and other professionals, he added, have also led to higher turnover.
“We’re seeing a lot of people that are looking for something else,” Hennigs said.
He said there is also a mismatch in how hospitals are recruiting and keeping qualified candidates.
“If you have a really good job, there’s no need to go to school,” he added.
The health care industry has been hit hard by the shortage of health professionals in the past decade.
Hospitaries are spending money on recruitment, training and retention, but they don�t always have the resources to hire them, Hennig said.
The shortage of nurses is another challenge.
“You have to pay nurses to be able to keep those nurses,” he noted.
The pharmacy workers are not the only workers who are getting less money.
The National Institutes of Health said last month that the average hourly wage of pharmacists in the United States was $19.75 in December, down 1 percent from $20.40 in November.
The shortage of pharmacy workers is affecting all industries.
Hospice care providers, for example, are paying their workers less than doctors because the pay gap between pharmacists and doctors has narrowed.
“It is very hard to keep doctors on staff, and it is not easy to keep pharmacists on staff,” said Stephanie Pfeifer, chief executive of the California Pharmacists Association.
Pfeifer said the shortage could also impact hospitals because they are often the first to close or close down their emergency departments, where doctors work.
In recent years, the number of patients who need hospitalization in California rose to more than one million, up from about 2.5 million in 2010, according to data from the California Department of Public Health and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
That increased number is making hospitals more vulnerable to patients needing emergency care, said Sarah Kostelnick, an associate professor of epidemiology at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Affairs.
For example, a hospital could close an emergency department because there are too many patients who are unwell, she said.
“They are getting out of bed and they don`t have time to go home.”
Dr. Paul Trenholm, a health economist at the RAND Corporation, said he worries about the health of patients when the shortage worsens.
He said hospitals will have to do more to recruit, train and retain the best staff.
“I worry about the patients, too,” he wrote in an e-mail.
The Department of Health and Human Services last year issued a report on the health care system that recommended changes that would help hospitals attract, retain and pay the best people.
In that report, the agency also recommended a plan to ensure that doctors, nurses, pharmacists, pharmacy technicians, and other workers in the health-care system receive the same pay as other workers.
In some states, hospitals have been paying employees below the federal