Demand for primary care physicians up but pay disparity remains

The demand for primary care physicians continues to rise. In the midst of an increasing general industry shortage of all physicians, the American population is aging and will need more primary care physicians to coordinate their healthcare needs in the coming years. The result is a demand that is not being met, with some regions critically underserved.

Even with that demand, the pay for primary care remains consistently lower than for specialty providers. Modern Healthcare’s 24th annual Physician Compensation Survey found that the median income for specialty physicians in 2016 ranked consistently at the top of the pay range:

  • Orthopedic surgeon, the highest among 23 medical specialties: $579,000
  • Invasive cardiologists: $575,810
  • Radiation oncologists: $515,999
  • Gastroenterologists: $495,300
  • Radiologists: $477,390

In contrast, the median income for a pediatrician in 2016 was $228,530. Modern Healthcare reports that “Primary-care specialties such as internal medicine, family medicine, emergency medicine, pediatrics, hospitalist care and obstetrics and gynecology all remained at the bottom end of the physician pay scale despite most seeing steady rises in compensation from 2015 to 2016.”

The demand for primary care physicians has been spurred on, in part, by a move toward value-based care in the healthcare field. Healthcare facilities such as hospitals are also now more focused on population health management, increasing the need for primary care providers to work with patients on quality health outcomes.

Focusing on the quality of care instead of the quantity of visits encourages primary care physicians to spend more time with each patient. While the patient benefits tremendously from the new value-based focus, and patient engagement improves significantly, it also means that more primary care physicians are needed for the care of those patients.

Improving the pay disparity between primary care physicians and specialty physicians will help alleviate the shortage. The new performance-based reimbursement structure under the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act (MACRA) may also impact the compensation structure. Other remedies might include student loan forgiveness or assistance for those choosing to go into primary care.

Here at Elation, were committed to ensuring independent primary care physicians have all the tools they need to provide the level of care they are known for. As value-based care potentially disrupts primary care demand and reimbursement – we’re here to support.