Primary care continues to feel the strain

Physicians in the North Central states are doing the best of all the nation’s physicians when it comes to compensation, according to Medscape’s “Physician Compensation Report 2011.”

That would be the Dakotas, Iowa, Missouri, Kansas and Nebraska. Why? “While over the years the disparity of compensation between regions has narrowed, certain specialties still earn more in the middle of the country,” says Tommy Bohannon, vice president for hospital-based recruiting at Merritt Hawkins. “In particular, the more procedurally-oriented fields [gastroenterology, orthopedic surgery, general surgery, and urology] are doing better than in other parts of the country while primary care specialties are lagging. When you factor in less competition, an increasing amount of hospital subsidy, and lower overall costs to run a practice, the heartland is generally the place to look” if you are a physician seeking to earn more money.

Meanwhile, there may be a shortage of primary care physicians but there’s apparently no shortage of primary care angst about payment. When asked if they feel they are being fairly compensated, 52 percent of PCPs say no. An almost equal percentage of physicians in 22 specialties, on the other hand, say they are fairly compensated. “While the shortage of PCPs is leading to better salaries due to difficulty recruiting, it’s not enough to offset the gap in pay,” says Bohannon.

Medscape says that 41 percent of PCPs spend 30-40 hours a week seeing patients, 37 percent spend 41-50 hours a week, and 23 percent spend 51-65 hours. Of course, hours are made up of minutes and the study shows that about 30 percent of PCPs spend 13-16 minutes with each patient. “We’re reaching a point where many of these practices simply can’t handle more patient volume without either expanding provider supply or further extending the hours of their current providers,” says Bohannon. “Recruiting is becoming more and more challenging in primary care.”

Note: 15,794 physicians in 22 specialties were surveyed by Medscape between Feb. 2, and March 30, 2011 via a third-party online collection site.

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