In case you haven’t seen it, the latest national survey data on hospitalist production, compensation, and other metrics was released in June.
Just as the Masters golf tournament is promoted as “a tradition like no other,” the combined SHM-MGMA (Medical Group Management Association) survey is without peer. Prior to this year, MGMA and SHM conducted separate surveys annually and biannually, respectively. The organizations chose to do a combined survey to take advantage of MGMA’s size and expertise in survey work (they’ve been conducting an annual survey of every specialty in medicine for decades) as well as SHM’s database of hospitalists and knowledge of the issues unique to HM.
If you want the most reliable data, this is the source you should use. I freely acknowledge my potential conflict of interest, which stems from my history with SHM (as a cofounder of SHM, I feel like a proud parent eager to trumpet all its accomplishments), and my consulting partner, Leslie Flores, was in charge of the survey process and data analysis for SHM. You should consider other sources of hospitalist data that might be available to you, but unless you have an unusually robust local or regional survey, the SHM-MGMA data will be the most valuable.
It’s Just a Survey
This survey provides the best national data, but like all such surveys, it has limitations. First, survey respondents vary in their diligence and accuracy in reporting their own data. It is even likely that some might “sanitize” or adjust the data they report in an effort, usually misguided, to provide a more accurate picture of their practice or cover up what might be for them an embarrassing issue. There is a process in place to catch outlier and inconsistent data submitted by a practice, and such practices are questioned to ensure accurate reporting and clear up any confusion or errors. But even that process is imperfect. There isn’t a team of auditors sent to “look at the books” to independently verify the accuracy of the data reported by each practice; that would be too costly, time-consuming, and even intimidating or annoying to be practical. So keep in mind that there is clearly some unavoidable “noise” or contamination in the data.
People sometimes say “SHM [or MGMA] says that ‘X’ is the right number of encounters for a hospitalist in a year,” where X is a number taken from the survey. Don’t make this mistake. I think it is misleading to think of the survey as establishing optimal or “right” benchmarks for any metric.
In fact, I think of benchmarks being something other than just survey numbers; instead, they’re well-considered data points derived from research showing what is optimal. The average glycohemoglobin of diabetics in the U.S. isn’t a desirable benchmark or goal, but the glycohemoglobin shown by research to be associated with the lowest risk of diabetic complications is. Keep this in mind when thinking about the survey results. There are little or no robust and generalizable research data regarding hospitalist productivity and compensation targets associated with the best performance.
Hospitalist Incomes Surge
Let’s look at one data point: mean salary. The data points in Figure 1 (left) are the average salary going back to the first year the SHM survey was conducted. Note that all historical data points are from the SHM survey only, and thus represent a different population of respondents than the 2010 SHM-MGMA data point. It is important to remember this when looking at any trended hospitalist data.