Practice Economics

How to Use Hospitalist Productivity, Compensation Survey Data


The 2014 State of Hospital Medicine report (SOHM), published by SHM in the fall of even years, is unquestionably the most robust and informative data available to understand the hospitalist workforce marketplace. And if you are the person who returned a completed survey for your practice, you get a free copy of the report mailed to you.

Keep in mind that the Medical Group Management Association (MGMA) surveys and reports data on hospitalist productivity and compensation every year. And the data acquired by MGMA in even years is simply folded into the SOHM, along with a ton of additional information added by a separate SHM survey, including things like the amount of financial support provided to hospitalist groups by hospitals (now up to a median of $156, 063 per full-time equivalent, or FTE).

I’ve written previously about some of the ways that the data reported in both of these surveys can be tricky to interpret (September 2013 and October 2013), and in this column I’ll go a little deeper into how to use the data reported on number of shifts worked and productivity.

A Common Question

Assume that, to address a staffing shortage or simply as a way to boost their income, some of the doctors in your group are willing to work more shifts than required for full-time status. And, in your group, some portion of a doctor’s compensation is a function of their individual work relevant value unit (wRVU) productivity—for example, a bonus for wRVUs above a certain threshold. You want to know whether the wRVU productivity generated by a doctor on their extra shifts should factor into compensation the same way it does for “regular” shifts.

You might turn to the MGMA and SOHM surveys to see how other groups handle this issue. But here is where it gets tricky.

First, you need to realize that the MGMA surveys, and similar ones from the American Medical Group Association and others, report wRVUs and compensation per physician, not per FTE. So wRVUs generated by these doctors on extra shifts are included, and you can’t tell from the aggregate data what portion of wRVUs came from regular shifts and what portion came from extra shifts.

And it is critical to keep in mind that any doctor who works at least 0.8 FTE as defined by that particular practice is reported as full time. Those working 79% or less of full time are counted by MGMA as part time.

Because such a significant portion of hospitalist groups have had chronic staffing shortages, a lot of hospitalists across the country are working extra shifts, probably more than are working between 0.8 and 1.0 FTE. So the hospitalist survey wRVU data is probably at least a little higher than it would be if it were reported per FTE.

To summarize: The MGMA and similar surveys don’t provide data on wRVU productivity per FTE, even though in most cases that is how everyone describes the data. Instead, the surveys provide data per individual doctor, many of whom work more or less than 1.0 FTE. So, despite the fact that most people, including me, tend to quote data from the surveys as though it is per FTE, as in “The 2014 MGMA data shows median hospitalist compensation is $253,977 per FTE,” we should say “per doctor” instead.

Theoretically, doctors working slightly less than 1.0 FTE should offset the doctors working slightly more than 1.0 FTE. But, while I think that’s a reasonable assumption for most specialties, such a significant portion of hospitalist groups have had chronic staffing shortages that a lot of hospitalists across the country are working extra shifts, probably more than are working between 0.8 and 1.0 FTE. So the hospitalist survey wRVU data is probably at least a little higher than it would be if it were reported per FTE.

Unfortunately, there is no way to confirm my suspicion, because MGMA doesn’t allow any individual doctor to be reported as more than 1.0 FTE, even if he works far more shifts than the number that defines full time for that practice. In other words, extra shifts just aren’t accounted for in the MGMA survey.

Implications of Individual vs. FTE

For most purposes, it probably doesn’t make any difference if you are erroneously thinking about the compensation and productivity survey numbers on a per FTE basis. But, for some purposes, and for those who work significantly more shifts than most hospitalists, it can start to matter.

Now back to the original question. You’re thinking about whether wRVUs generated by the doctors in your group on extra shifts should count toward the wRVU bonus just like those generated on regular shifts. You’d like to handle this the same way as other groups, but, unfortunately, survey data just isn’t helpful here. You’ll have to decide this for yourself.

I think some, but probably not all, extra shift productivity should count toward your wRVU bonus. You might, for example, say that productivity for somewhere between three or five extra shifts per quarter—that’s totally arbitrary, and of course this would be a negotiation between you and hospital leadership—should count toward the productivity target, and the rest wouldn’t, or that those extra shifts above an agreed-upon number would result in an increase in the wRVU target. The biggest problem with this is that it would be a nightmare to administer—essentially impossible for many practices. But you could accomplish the same thing by including the first few shifts per quarter in the “base” FTE calculation and then, after that, adjusting each person’s FTE value up as they work more shifts.

One more thing about productivity targets…

It’s also important to remember that productivity targets make the most sense at the group—not the individual—level. The MGMA data includes hospitalists who work night shifts (including nocturnists) and doctors who work low-production shifts (i.e., pager or ED triage shifts), as well as daytime rounding doctors. So, if you have a doctor who only works days, you would expect him to generate wRVUs in excess of the global target of wRVUs per FTE to make up for the low-productivity shifts that other doctors have to work.

For example, your practice might decide the group as a whole is expected to generate the MGMA yearly median 4,298 wRVUs per doctor, multiplied by the number of FTEs in the group. But the nocturnists would be expected to generate fewer, while those who work most or all of their shifts in a daytime rounder would be expected to generate more. So the threshold to begin paying the wRVU bonus for daytime rounding doctors might be adjusted up to something like 4,500 wRVUs.

The above example is just as an illustration, of course, and there are all kinds of reasons it might be more appropriate to choose different thresholds for your practice. But it’s a good place to start the thinking.

Dr. Nelson has been a practicing hospitalist since 1988. He is co-founder and past president of SHM, and principal in Nelson Flores Hospital Medicine Consultants. He is co-director for SHM’s “Best Practices in Managing a Hospital Medicine Program” course. Write to him at

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