Overall physician compensation in the United States increased by 0.12% in 2020, but some specialties saw median compensation rates higher than others, according to the 34th annual AMGA Medical Group Compensation and Productivity Survey, performed by American Medical Group Association (AMGA).
What physician compensation looked like in 2020
For the survey, AMGA gathered data from 398 medical groups "representing over 190,000 providers from 168 physician, advanced practice clinician, and other specialties."
While the report found that overall physician compensation increased slightly in 2020, overall physician productivity dropped 10.17% in 2020, down significantly from the 0.56% increase reported in 2019, likely stemming from declines in patient office visits and elective surgeries amid the pandemic.
Of the specialties included in the report, orthopedic surgery saw the highest median compensation in 2020, at $626,297. However, even though that was a high compared with other specialties in 2020, it represented a decrease for orthopedic surgeons from the previous year's median compensation of $631,900.
General pediatrics and adolescent care saw the lowest median compensation in 2020—it was $255,352, a decrease from $257,432 the year before.
Meanwhile, when divided up by region, the data showed that primary care specialties had the highest median compensation in 2020 in the West and the lowest in the East.
How Covid-19 impacted physician compensation
According to a statement from AMGA, the report shows how the Covid-19 pandemic affected physician compensation in 2020.
"Though the survey, conducted by AMGA Consulting, found very modest increases in compensation, there were significant decreases in productivity, which can be directly tied to the pandemic," AMGA said in the statement. "The data reveals the devastating economic impact of Covid-19 on health care provider organizations and indicates that they may need to rethink their compensation models in order to remain resilient in the face of future disruptions."
AMGA Consulting president Fred Horton in the statement said the trends seen in the report "were the obvious result of flat compensation combined with a decline in volume of services."
"Medical groups paid a steep price to retain their physician talent, even though productivity steeply declined," Horton said. "Covid-19 highlighted the need for medical groups and health systems to reconsider their compensation plans so that they rely less on obligatory annual pay increases and more on incentivizing productivity that rewards valuable outcomes. The shift to more value-based compensation models will help organizations become more resilient against future economic downturns."
The decline in physician productivity "was not surprising," said Elizabeth Siemsen, AMGA Consulting director. "Medical groups temporarily canceling elective procedures, an inability for some patients to access health care services for portions of the year, and the apprehension of other patients to seek in-person care for fear of Covid-19 infection all played a role in the declines we observed." (AMGA release, 8/17; Cheney, HealthLeaders Media, 8/20).