Family physicians continue to be the most in-demand doctors, and the need for these physicians continues to drive up starting salaries, according to a new survey.
The average starting salary for family physicians is $231,000, according to the 14th annual review tracking physician compensation and recruiting trends by Merritt Hawkins, a physician search company. That's up from $198,000 in 2015, an increase of 17%.
However, the demand did not put family physicians at the top of the salary scale, as specialists continued to draw bigger paychecks. Data were compiled based on 3,287 physician and advanced practitioner recruiting assignments by the firm from April 1, 2016, to March 31, 2017.
Family physicians have been the most in-demand doctors for 11 years in a row, and Travis Singleton, senior vice president of Merritt Hawkins, doesn't see it changing in the future.
“I look at it as a sort of perfect storm,” said Singleton in an interview with FierceHealthcare, noting that emerging delivery models that reward quality and population health, along with a team-based approach, have begun to change the role of primary care doctors to that of quarterback. Primary care doctors are able to see fewer patients and the demand for urgent care centers, retail clinics, community health centers, telehealth and other modes of convenient care are other reasons that have accelerated the recruitment of family doctors.
Unlike in most other countries, 70% of the doctors in the U.S. are specialists, creating a need for primary care doctors, Singleton says. “From a supply and demand perspective, I see it getting worse.”
Check out the list of the 10 most highly recruited physicians in this Merritt Hawkins infographic:
Other results from the report included:
The shortage of psychiatrists deepened. The company conducted more searches for psychiatrists in the last year than it has in its 30-year history. “In my opinion, that’s the scariest,” Singleton said of the shortage that leaves many mental health conditions undiagnosed and untreated.
The use of value-based incentives increased, but physicians are still largely rewarded based on volume. Some 39% of the company’s clients that offered a production bonus based the amount in whole or in part on value-based metrics such as patient satisfaction and outcome measures, up from 32% the previous year. However, despite all the talk about value-based care, it’s still largely a fee-for-service system, Singleton said. In many cases, the part of production bonuses based on value-based metrics are very insignificant, he added.
Over 90% of physicians are recruited into employed rather than independent practice settings. 2016 marked a tipping point in which physician practice owners are no longer the majority, according to a survey by the American Medical Association. Singleton said nine out of 10 physicians coming out of medical school now will likely work as an employee. About 75% of the total marketplace for physicians is for positions where doctors will be employed rather than independent practitioners.
Physician shortages are not confined to traditionally underserved rural areas, as 55% of the company’s search assignments last year took place in communities of 100,000 people or more. The Association of American Medical Colleges projects a shortage of between 40,800 and 104,900 doctors by 2030.
Editor's note: This article was updated July 25 based on an additional interview.