Physician compensation, production stagnate in 2017, AMGA finds

A stethoscope on a computer keyboard
In 2017, physician productivity was down and compensation increased by less than 2%. (Getty/anyaberkut)

Something happened in 2017 that hasn’t occurred in more than a decade: Physician compensation and productivity did not meaningfully increase.

Last year was the first in more than a decade that physician compensation increased by less than 2%, according to an AGMA report. And productivity declined.

“The 2018 survey’s results are surely different from those of years past, where we experienced an annual cash compensation increase of 2% to 3% almost across-the-board,” said Wayne Hartley, chief operating officer of AMGA’s consulting branch, in an announcement.

“Production has stalled, and since many compensation plans are driven by production, total cash compensation has been impacted,” Hartley said.

Overall, the national median showed a decline in physician productivity by a weighted average of -1.63%, and an increase in compensation of only +0.89%, according to the AMGA 2018 Medical Group Compensation and Productivity Survey, which was conducted by AMGA Consulting.

Changes in provider productivity and compensation varied by specialty last year―in some cases substantially, the report found. Certain specialties, such as cardiac/thoracic surgery, experienced a higher-than-normal compensation increase, while other specialties, such as ophthalmology, faced a notable decrease.

The report identified potential factors that may be responsible for the decline in productivity, including the burdens of electronic health record use, patient complexity and administrative and compliance requirements.

“Medical groups today consistently report several factors that have an impact on their clinical output,” said Fred Horton, president of AMGA Consulting. “These include the use of electronic health records, increasingly complex patients who require more face-to-face time, and various administrative and compliance requirements. The production levels reported this year could be a consequence of any or all of these factors.”

An analysis from the American Medical Association earlier this year found that physicians are still getting a lot of their pay from personal productivity despite broader attempts to shift to value-based payment models.

No doubt some doctors are feeling the pressure to increase productivity, including taking on more patient visits. Practices are also looking for ways to increase physician productivity and revenue, trying to reduce the amount of time physicians spend bogged down handling uncompensated tasks such as paperwork by taking steps such as hiring scribes.