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What Doctors Earn: Highest and Lowest Paid Specialties

Orthopedists top the list in 2015 survey

Most doctors earn a respectable salary, but health care reform and efforts to control medical costs are affecting the way they do business. The annual Medscape from WebMD physician compensation survey highlights a number of trends and disparities in the medical field, according to an article on the CBS News website.

The survey of more than 19,600 doctors in 26 specialties found that the average compensation for a specialist in 2014 was $284,000, whereas primary care physicians (PCPs) made an average of $195,000, CBS says. That reflects a “modest” increase over previous years, and some specialties fared better than others.

The survey also found a significant pay gap between male and female physicians and between doctors in different regions of the country.

Medscape asked physicians to provide their compensation for patient care. For employed physicians, patient-care compensation included salary, bonus, and profit-sharing contributions. For partners, it included earnings after taxes and deductible business expenses but before income tax.

When asked about their compensation for patient care, the top three earners for 2015 were orthopedists ($421,000), cardiologists ($376,000), and gastroenterologists ($370,000), and the lowest earners, starting from last place, were pediatricians ($189,000), family physicians ($195,000), and endocrinologists and internists (both at $196,000), according to the Medscape survey.

When 2015’s compensation was compared with the previous year’s, only rheumatologists experienced a notable reduction in income (4%). Urologists were the only other specialists to see a decline, but by only 1%. The rest of the physicians reported an increase. The greatest increases occurred among infectious disease physicians (22%), followed by physicians who mostly work in hospitals: pulmonologists (15%), emergency medicine physicians (12%), and pathologists (12%). Compensation for family physicians also rose by 10%.

In 2015, as in all previous years of the Medscape survey, male physicians earned more ($284,000) than their female counterparts ($215,000). The percentage difference between men and women did not vary much between self-employed (23%) and employed (22%) physicians.

Physicians who felt most underpaid included ophthalmologists (40%) and allergists and general surgeons (both 41%). Those most likely to believe that they were paid fairly included dermatologists (61%) and emergency medicine physicians and pathologists (both 60%). Of interest, the two latter groups reported a 12% rise in compensation in 2015, which was among the top four increases, the survey found.

Despite considerable publicity, cash-only and concierge practices were still not significant payment models, according to the survey. Concierge practices stayed level at only 3% since last year, and cash-only dropped a percentage point. Participation in accountable care organizations, however, has continued to rise dramatically, from 3% in 2011 to 30% in this year’s survey. More PCPs were in or expected to participate in ACOs (43%) this year compared with the general population of physicians (37%).

The survey also found that nearly three-quarters (74%) of physicians discussed the cost of treatment with their patients, which represented an increase from 68% of physicians who answered this way in Medscape’s 2012 compensation survey. A 2013 editorial in the New England Journal of Medicine stressed the benefits of such discussions, including finding lower-cost alternatives and making trade-offs, the survey notes.

The Medscape survey sampled 19,657 physicians across 26 specialties between December 30, 2014 and March 11, 2015. The data were compiled via a third-party online-survey collection site.

Sources: CBS News; June 8, 2015; and Medscape Physician Compensation Report; April 21, 2015.

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