SullivanCotter’s Physician Compensation Survey Reveals Decreasing Gap Between Primary Care and Specialty Physician Compensation

SullivanCotter (SullivanCotter), a health care compensation and human resources management consulting firm, reported that data for physician total cash compensation levels indicate a slight decrease in the gap between primary care physicians and specialists, according to the 2013 Physician Compensation and Productivity Survey Report.

The survey results indicated an overall increase of median total cash compensation of 5.7% for primary care physicians between 2012 and 2013. Conversely, medical and surgical specialists had an increase of 3.2% and 2.3%, respectively, during the same time frame.

“For many years, our survey results have shown a widening gap in the pay relationships between primary care physicians and specialists. The results from our 2013 survey demonstrate a slight shift in the market and these pay relationships. This is consistent with the ever-increasing labor market demand for primary care physicians. With the expanded health care coverage and emphasis on preventative care, population health management and cost control, primary care physicians are in high demand as they are at the forefront of ensuring successful implementation of these initiatives,” notes Kim Mobley, Managing Principal and National Physician Compensation Practice Leader.

Other Key Findings

The survey also found health care organizations are modifying their physician compensation plans. While clinical productivity, utilized by about two-thirds of organizations and most often based on work relative value units (work RVUs) continues to be part of the physician compensation model, many organizations are developing transitional approaches that allow them to include other performance-based metrics such as quality, patient satisfaction and, in some instances, citizenship. The prevalence and amount of compensation tied to these metrics have grown significantly over the past few years, with about one-third reporting the use of quality metrics in their physician compensation plan in 2013. Ms. Mobley indicates that “the amount of compensation paid for achievement of specified quality metrics varies by specialty area.” According to the survey, the overall median amount paid for quality in 2013 was $15,000; however, this varied from $7,000 median quality payments for primary care to $20,000 for medical and surgical specialties. When considered as a percentage of total cash compensation, the overall median amount paid for quality was 5.0%. Ms. Mobley further notes that “we are closely monitoring the amount of compensation tied to quality and patient satisfaction as this will have an impact on future compensation approaches. As reimbursement shifts from fee for service to value based, we expect to see some shifts in the balance of the compensation elements that comprise physician compensation plans.”

Other physician compensation trends published include the continued use of on-call pay, as 64% of health care organizations reported paying at least some physicians for call coverage (up from 48% in 2008); the use of non-compete agreements, as reported by two-thirds of the survey participants; and the use of hiring bonuses, as reported by 74% of the survey participants. It should also be noted that physician benefits are an important part of the total compensation provided to physicians. The 2013 survey found that 44% of physician employers provided benefits to physicians that were more generous than those provided to other employees, which is up from 37% in 2012.

The survey report contains data from 484 organizations covering over 91,000 health care providers. It includes total cash compensation data on 230 physician, PhD and advanced practice clinician (APC) specialties, as well as eight medical group executive positions. The full survey report is now available for purchase.

SullivanCotter also announced the launch of its 2014 Physician Compensation and Productivity Survey, which includes improvements to the Client Portal for faster, easier participation, especially for past participants who are now able to pre-populate questions with responses from their 2013 survey submission.

For more information on the 2013 survey results, or to participate in the 2014 survey, please contact the SullivanCotter Survey Team at 888.739.7039 or

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