U.S. physicians increased their earnings this past year, while the burden of paperwork and administrative tasks grew to more than full days' worth of work per week for the majority of physicians, according to the results of the 2019 Medscape Physician Compensation Report.
Cited as one of the key factors driving physician burnout and depression, hours spent on bureaucratic tasks have nearly tripled since 2012, with nearly 75 percent of physicians spending 10 hours or more a week on paperwork and one-third spending more than 20 hours.
The report touts itself as the most comprehensive and widely used physician salary survey in the U.S., examining compensation, hours worked, time spent with patients, and what they find most rewarding -- and challenging -- about their jobs. More than 20,000 U.S. physicians across 30 specialties responded to the survey.
Physician salaries average $313,000 in this year's report, up from $299,999 in 2018 -- marking a more than 20 percent increase since 2015.
The highest paid physicians were orthopedists, plastic surgeons and otolaryngologists (ranging from $482,000 to $461,000, respectively), while public health and preventive medicine specialists and pediatricians reported the lowest compensation, at $209,000 and $225,000 respectively.
The gender disparity in compensation increased by 6 percentage points, with men earning 25 percent more than women, up from 18 percent more in 2018. While the report found that women see patients an average of four hours less per week, and gravitate towards the lower paid specialties, those factors do not fully explain the pay differences.
Increases in administrative tasks are contributing to burnout and frustration, yet the report found that nearly all physicians are satisfied or "very satisfied: with their job performance, and would choose to be a physician if they had it to do all over again.
WHAT ELSE YOU SHOULD KNOW
Half of all physicians reported employing nurse practitioners and 36 percent now have physician assistants in their practice. Outpatient clinics most often employ NPs (66 percent), followed by academic (non-hospital) settings (61 percent) and healthcare organizations (60 percent).
Healthcare organizations most often employ PAs (43 percent) followed by office-based multispecialty groups (42 percent) and hospitals (41 percent). Physicians reported that NPs and PAs make their practice more profitable.
Although a minority, the number of physicians reporting that they plan to stop accepting new Medicare and Medicaid patients, or discontinue seeing some of their existing patients, more than doubled to 18 percent, from just 8 percent in 2018). In many cases, physicians have decided that the cost of providing care and the time spent complying with the program regulations are not worth the program reimbursement, which is typically lower than that of commercial insurance.
Medscape's findings mirror those found in a PracticeMatch survey released in September, which found female doctors are paid less than their male colleagues, although job satisfaction among both genders was generally high. The only real discrepancy was that physician pay overall was found to have stagnated, though the intervening months may have changed the picture somewhat.