Pay for America's Group Doctors Holds Steady

A recent survey shows physician salaries at medical groups are increasing, though not by a lot. However, not every specialty got a bump in pay in 2014.

“For success, attitude is equally as important as ability.”

—Harry F. Banks

I learned late in life that my physician-dad was a successful physician. The six-figure income he was earning by the early 1980s, adjusted for inflation, would place him in the above-average range for today’s doctor salaries.

Still, he didn’t consider himself well off. The medical practice was just he and one partner. And a big family, education bills, a large old house—along with suspect personal finance skills—were a constant drain. His ultimate success secret was to “get up and go to work.”

For most of today’s practicing doctors, the income picture is perhaps even more testing. According to results from the American Medical Group Association’s 2015 Medical Group Compensation and Productivity Survey, the financial story is a little better for doctors in group medical practices. When you factor in the expenses of life, however, incomes remain stagnant.

Based on surveys of 73,000 group doctors for 134 medical specialties, about 75% of physician specialties realized compensation increases in 2014. The average compensation increase for these doctors last year was 2.8%, similar to the 2.9% bump in 2013. Even in this age of relatively low inflation, those salary numbers aren’t blossoming.

Summary findings include:

• Primary care physicians saw a decrease of 0.3% in annual compensation, down from a 3.8% increase in 2013.

• Other medical specialties saw an average increase of 3.2%, they were up 1.8% in 2013.

• Surgical specialties saw an average increase of 2%, down from a 3% increase in 2013.

The medical specialties that experienced the biggest increases in compensation last year were hematology/oncology (10.8%), pulmonology (10.4%), dermatology (8.3%), interventional cardiology (8.1%), gastroenterology (7.4%), and hypertension and nephrology (7%).

“Physician compensation in general has remained pretty flat for the past few years, with an average increase below 3%,” said Donald W. Fisher, PhD, AMGA president and CEO. “We’ve seen peaks in certain specialties, and dips in others, and much of this reflects the cyclical nature of healthcare economics. However, with the movement to value-based incentives for care, the delivery model is changing to a more team-based approach.

Here is the latest median annual compensation for various medical specialties, according to AMGA:

Family Medicine: $225,899

Internal Medicine: $239,968

Pediatrics/Adolescent - General: $233,609

Allergy/Immunology: $281,100

Cardiology - General: $452,500

Cardiology - Cath Lab: $588,910

Dermatology: $453,909

Endocrinology: $241,926

Gastroenterology: $506,022

Hematology/Oncology: $407,000

Hospitalist - IM: $263,500

Hypertension/Nephrology: $309,000

Infectious Disease: $247,362

Neurology: $280,126

Psychiatry: $246,500

Pulmonary Disease: $335,928

Rheumatologic Disease: $247,112

Urgent Care: $251,680

Cardiac/Thoracic Surgery: $596,637

Emergency Medicine: $324,015

General Surgery: $390,481

OB/GYN: $321,747

Ophthalmology: $401,926

Orthopedic Surgery: $572,790

Otolaryngology: $419,500

Urology: $433,308

Anesthesiology: $416,094

Diagnostic Radiology: $483,660

Here are a few other pertinent points in the AMGA survey:

• As to ownership of the medical groups, 54% are owned by a health system, 25% by the doctors, and 13% by a hospital.

• Regarding the legal makeup for the groups, 72% are not-for-profit corporations or foundations and 13% are professional corporations.

• As to minimum number of hours per week a physician must work to be considered full-time, 64% are 36-40 hours and 24% are 31-35 hours.

• When it comes to compensation measures on production-based compensation plans for physicians, 71% use work RVUs and 40% use net collections.

• As to other incentives and discretionary compensation measures, 63% use patient satisfaction, 55% use individual financial goals, and 44% use clinical outcomes.

• The southern region of the nation tends to have the highest compensation by specialty, followed closely by the western region.

Source: American Medical Group Association