Last month, we looked at the three main factors affecting workload variability across different HM practices and its relationship to compensation. This month we will examine how physician pay varies within a single site.
For the purposes of this discussion, we will ignore volume of encounters by physician. It goes without saying that if two physicians are working and producing an equal amount at the same site, their compensation will be similar. Outside of volume variability, then, what causes differences in compensation?
Leadership: This is a hugely important piece of the puzzle, and one that merits some attention. There always should be differential pay attached to those physicians willing to shoulder the leadership burden. In my honest opinion, local HM group leaders are horrifically, grotesquely, and shockingly underpaid. They tend to be very hard-working, almost servants to the other members of the group, and usually are vastly underappreciated.
Money isn’t necessarily the answer here; maybe the reward is a lighter schedule or lighter rounding load, but the bottom line is that there should be a substantial differential for leaders. Unfortunately, I think that still tends to be the exception rather than the rule. Hospitalist group leaders have a heck of a hard job trying to lead other physicians, and they should be paid accordingly.
At the same time, the best leaders are the ones that are still working a clinical schedule and, because of that, still understand the day-to-day demands of the job. I am always a bit skeptical of the folks who are in positions of power but aren’t experiencing the daily workload.
Experience: This is a little bit tricky. In their simplest form, physician practices tend to have partners and non-partners. The timeline from employment to partnership is about two to three years. Upon becoming partner, additional benefits accrue, generally in the form of higher compensation or the ability to work a reduced schedule.
However, “experience” prima facie will not vault one into the partnership level upon joining a new group. That experience only counts for the group you are in. (And the partner collections from the insurance payor system? No change in reimbursement. We have a payor system that, at this point, does not adequately recognize experience or quality. I always have fun trying to explain this to my friends outside of healthcare. They tend to just shake their head and sigh. Hopefully we can get somewhere new with value-based purchasing and ACOs.) Anyway, enough digressing...
Nights: A fair number of groups use a night shift model. These shifts, due to their timing, will generate a lower volume of encounters and require a commensurately higher pay. As a result, the inclusion of nocturnist compensation in a pay model will skew the numbers. In a practice with a large number of hospitals and night shifts, nocturnists are a sought-after commodity.
Quality: Here is where things are going to get interesting in the very near future. A lot of hospitalist groups have quality measures that play a part in compensation, but it’s mostly small numbers, maybe 10% of total compensation. These measures tend to be internal quality metrics for things like chart completion, citizenship, or meeting attendance. Now, with the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) getting into the game, hospitals are starting to sit up and pay attention. That means administrators want hospitalists to pay attention, too. Exactly how data for each physician will be extracted from the group, which typically is extracted from the hospital as a whole, is a valid question. However, expect quality measures to persistently factor into the compensation equation.
The response I’ve laid out is meant to foster discussion, not serve as a final determination, and represents only one hospitalist’s view on the subject.