Cardiologists' Pay Increases; Most Satisfied
With Profession

Megan Brooks

May 21, 2020

Cardiologists remain among the top earners in medicine in 2020 and their annual pay has increased over 2019, although female cardiologists continue to earn less than their male peers, according to the 2020 Medscape Cardiologist Compensation Report.

However, an important caveat is that the data for this year's report were collected prior to February 10 and, therefore, reflect physician salary and income prior to the COVID-19 crisis, which has had a huge impact on physicians.

For example, since the start of the crisis, data show that physician practices have seen a 55% dip in revenue and a 60% drop in patient volume on average. Hospitals and physician groups nationwide have implemented layoffs, furloughs, and pay cuts.

In March, 43,000 healthcare workers were laid off; 9% of independent medical practices reported that they have closed their practices, at least temporarily. With this in mind, the Medscape 2020 report shows that annual compensation for cardiologists increased to $438,000 in 2020, up from $430,000 in 2019.

Cardiologist pay is the fourth highest of all specialties in the overall Medscape Physician Compensation Report 2020, which covers US physicians as a whole and more than 17,000 physicians in more than 30 specialties.

Nearly two thirds of cardiologists (61%) report that they feel fairly compensated, somewhat higher than last year's percentage (54%).

On average, cardiologists are eligible for an average incentive bonus of $63,000. Average incentive bonuses are highest among orthopedists ($96,000) and lowest among family medicine physicians ($24,000).

More than half of cardiologists (55%) say they receive three quarters of their potential annual incentive bonus.

But COVID-19 may change that. Experts interviewed recently by Medscape noted that productivity benchmarks for physicians are likely to be lowered in light of plunging patient numbers from COVID-19, and bonuses are expected to take a hit

Most Cardiologists Happy at Work

On average, male cardiologists spend 42.6 hours per week seeing patients, somewhat higher than female cardiologists (36.9 hours); the average for all physicians is 37.9 hours per week.

Bureaucratic tasks continue to be a burden for physicians in all specialties. On average, cardiologists spend 16.9 hours per week on paperwork and administration, similar to physicians overall (15.6 hours).

Intensivists top the list regarding such tasks (19.1 hours), followed by internists (18.5), infectious disease physicians (18.5), and physiatrists (18.3). Anesthesiologists and ophthalmologists spend the least amount of time on paperwork/administration (10.0 and 9.8 hours per week, respectively).

What is most rewarding about being a cardiologist? Relationships with and gratitude from patients (31%) tops the list, followed by being good at what they do/finding answers, diagnoses (26%), making the world a better place (18%) and making good money at a job they like (12%). A few cited pride in their profession (6%) and teaching (3%). These figures are in line with last year's responses.

The most challenging part of practicing cardiology is having so many rules and regulations (30%), respondents report. Other challenges include having to work long hours (21%), working with electronic health records (17%), dealing with difficult patients (8%) and trouble getting fair reimbursement (7%).

Despite the challenges, 82% of cardiologists said they would choose medicine again and 92% would choose cardiology again.

Other key findings from the latest report regarding cardiologists include the following:

  • At 15%, cardiologists rank at the lower end of physicians potentially losing money on denied or resubmitted claims. Plastic surgery and emergency medicine have the highest percentage of claims denied or resubmitted (28% and 22%, respectively). One study found that, on average, 63% of denied claims are recoverable, but healthcare professionals spend about $118 per claim on appeals.

  • 41% of cardiologists say they use physician assistants (PAs) to treat patients in their practices, while two thirds use nurse practitioners (NPs); 26% use neither for patient care. Half of cardiologists who work with PAs and NPs in their offices say these employees have helped boost profitability.

  • 84% of cardiologists say they will continue taking new and current Medicare/Medicaid patients; only 1% say they won't take new Medicare patients and 13% are undecided, roughly the same as last year.

  • The large majority of cardiologists rely on payers; 44% rely on fee-for-service arrangements and 29% on accountable care organizations (ACO) for patient-based income.

  • 42% of cardiologists expect to participate in merit-based incentive payment system (MIPS), but only 9% expect to participate in alternative payment models (APMs).

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