Compensation Gap Between PCPs and Specialists Narrows

The compensation gap between primary care physicians (PCPs) and specialists is decreasing as PCPs continue to be in high demand as a result of expanding healthcare coverage and an emphasis on preventative care.

The compensation gap between primary care physicians (PCPs) and specialists is decreasing, according to a new report on physician compensation.

The 2013 Physician Compensation and Productivity Survey Report from Sullivan, Cotter and Associates, found that the median total cash compensation for PCPs increased 5.7% overall between 2012 and 2013. For medical and surgical specialists, median compensation increased just 3.2% and 2.3%, respectively, during the same time period.

“For many years, our survey results have shown a widening gap in the pay relationships between primary care physicians and specialists,” Kim Mobley, Managing Principal and National Physician Compensation Practice Leader, said in a statement. “The results from our 2013 survey demonstrate a slight shift in the market and these pay relationships. This is consistent with the ever-increasing labor market demand for primary care physicians.”

Mobley added that increased compensation is occurring as PCPs are in high demand as a result of expanding healthcare coverage and an emphasis on preventative care, population health management and cost control.

The slight decrease in compensation gap might also be a result of the fact that healthcare organizations are modifying their physician compensation plans. In addition to clinical productivity and work relative value units, many organizations are including performance-based metrics such as quality, patient satisfaction and even citizenship. Roughly a third of respondents used these quality metrics in 2013, but the overall median amount paid for quality was just 5% of total cash compensation.

The overall median paid for quality in 2013 was $15,000; however it varied considerably among specialties. Median quality payments for primary care were $7,000, while specialties received $20,000.

“We are closely monitoring the amount of compensation tied to quality and patient satisfaction as this will have an impact on future compensation approaches,” Mobley said. “As reimbursement shifts from fee for service to value based, we expect to see some shifts in the balance of the compensation elements that comprise physician compensation plans.”

The report contained data from 484 organizations covering over 91,000 health care providers.