Primary care poised for earnings growth

Primary care physicians reported a 5.16 percent increase in median compensation in 2011, according to respondents to the Medical Group Management Association (MGMA) Physician Compensation and Production Survey: 2012 Report Based on 2011 Data.

The survey report, released on July 10, is based on data from 62,245 providers in 2,913 groups.

Physicians in family practice (without obstetrics) reported median earnings of $200,114 (a 5.66 percent gain), while those in pediatric/ adolescent medicine earned $203,948 in median compensation (a 6.14 percent gain).

Internists reported median earnings of $215,689 in 2011, a 5.02 percent increase over the prior year.

“There appears to be a growing focus on primary care providers in anticipation of new methodologies in payment, a focus on coordination of care, and the imperative to control utilization and costs in the system,” said Michael L. Nochomovitz, MD, president of University Hospitals Physician Services in Cleveland. “There is increasing employment of physicians by integrated delivery systems and hospitals, which may also explain these shifts in compensation for primary care physicians.”

Primary care doctors in single practices reported median compensation of $217,345, while those in multispecialty practices earned $211,803 in median compensation. The slight 2.6 percent salary gap between single and multi-specialty settings reflects intense competition for primary care physicians' services, MGMA said.

However, MGMA noted in an analysis available to members that inflation took a chunk out of primary care physicians' raises. When adjusted for inflation, family practitioners gained 2.42 percent, while pediatric/adolescent physicians gained 2.89 percent and internists gained just 1.81 percent.

Radiologists, anesthesiologists and psychiatrists were among specialists who reported increases in compensation. For example, psychiatrists' compensation increased 3.86 percent since 2010 compared to the median growth of other specialists in the past year. “The industry is moving toward a team approach in delivering care, which would include behavioral health care components,” continued Nochomovitz, a former MGMA board member. “But the incentives for this model of care are still limited on a national scale.”

Specialists who reported slight decreases in compensation include nephrologists, gynecologists and radiation oncologists.

Overall, specialists reported compensation increases of about 2 percent or less when adjusted for inflation.

Urologists reported the largest inflation-adjusted compensation increase at 8.56 percent, MGMA noted.

The survey also reported on compensation for non-physician providers. For example, physician assistants (PAs) in primary care earned $92,635 in median compensation in 2011 and surgical PAs reported $111,246 in median compensation.

“Non-physician providers continue to play a pivotal role in the provision of healthcare services throughout the United States,” said Todd Evenson, director of data solutions at MGMA-ACMPE. “As demand for primary care practitioners continues to increase, the market will respond by complementing the activities of physicians with the skill set of these and other professionals.”

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