Physician Earnings: Income Is Up, Morale Is Split

Mark Crane


April 25, 2013

In This Article

Where You Practice Affects Income

For the third year in a row, the highest-earning physicians practice in the North Central region (comprising Iowa, Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska, and South and North Dakota), at a mean income of $259,000 -- up about 11% from 2011. The next-highest earners are physicians in the Great Lakes region, at $248,000. Physicians in the Northeast again earn the least, at a mean income of $228,000 -- up 12% over the previous year.

"These findings aren't a surprise," said Tommy Bohannon. "There's less managed care in the North Central region, fewer doctors per capita, and a lower cost of doing business. The opposite is true in the Northeast." Also, primary care physicians often perform more services in rural areas because there are fewer specialists.

Income Varies by Type of Practice

A physician partner in a private practice earns a mean of $311,000, up slightly since the previous year but significantly more than employed doctors, who earned a mean of $220,000 -- up about 13% from 2011. Physicians in single-specialty group practices were the next-highest earners at $265,000, followed by doctors in multispecialty practices at $260,000.

Employed physicians ($220,000) earn more than solo practice physicians ($216,000) -- a slight reversal since last year's survey, when solo doctors earned about 14% more than employed colleagues.

"Group practices can achieve economies of scale for utilities, staffing, physical space, and other factors," said Tommy Bohannon. "There's a customer service element in multispecialty groups. Patients like the one-stop shopping idea."

Judy Aburmishan agrees, and adds that group practice doctors hold each other accountable. "They have expectations and benchmarks they work toward. You don't want to be the doctor seen as one who isn't producing as much. That competition among themselves can boost income."

Doctors Are Drowning in Paperwork

Whether it's actual paper or computer-based reporting, physicians are spending more time than ever on administrative and compliance tasks. A majority (51%) of physicians spend from 5 to 14 hours per week on these chores. Another 17% spend more than 20 hours per week.

In last year's survey, more than one half of physicians (53%) spent less than 5 hours on paperwork, and 23% spent from 5 to 14 hours.

"There are more and more regulations requiring more reporting," said Judy Aburmishan. "You have to have an electronic medical record, or you'll have trouble getting paid. This all takes up more and more time."

"Emerging reimbursement models are often based on how well you document what you did," said Tommy Bohannon. "It feels like more than half of compensation models have some qualifier relating to the accuracy and timeliness of documentation."