Practice Economics

Shift from Productivity to Value-Based Compensation Gains Momentum


 

At the 2011 SHM annual meeting in Dallas, I served on an expert panel that reviewed the latest hospitalist survey data. Included in this review were the latest compensation and productivity figures. As the session concluded, I was satisfied that the panel had discussed important information in an accessible way; however, the keynote speaker who followed us to address an entirely different topic began his talk by pointing out that the data we had reviewed, including things like wRVUs, would very soon have little to do with compensation for any physician, regardless of specialty. He implied, quite persuasively, that we were pretty old school to be talking about wRVUs and compensation based on productivity; everyone should be prepared for and embrace compensation based on value, not production.

I hear a similar sentiment reasonably often. And I agree, but I think many make the mistake of oversimplifying the issue.

Physician Value-Based Payment

Measurement of physician performance using costs, quality, and outcomes has already begun and will influence Medicare payments to doctors beginning in 2015 for large groups (>100 providers with any mix of specialties billing under the same tax ID number) and in 2017 for smaller groups.

If Medicare is moving away from payment based on wRVUs, likely followed soon by other payors, then hospitalist compensation should do the same. But I don’t think that changes the potential role of compensation based on productivity.

Compensation Should Include Performance and Productivity Metrics

Survey data show a move from an essentially fixed annual compensation early in our field to an inclusion of components tied to performance several years before the introduction of the Physician Value-Based Payment Modifier program. Data from SHM’s 2010, 2011, and 2012 State of Hospital Medicine reports (www.hospitalmedicine.org/survey) show that a small, but probably increasing, part of compensation has been tied to performance on things like patient satisfaction and core measures (see “Distribution of Total Hospitalist Compensation,” below). Note that the percentages in the chart refer to the fraction of total compensation dollars allocated to each domain and not the portion of hospitalists who have compensation tied to each domain.

Over the same three years, the percentage of compensation tied to productivity has been decreasing overall, while “private groups are more likely to pay a higher proportion of compensation based on productivity, and hospital-employed groups are more likely to pay a higher proportion of compensation based on performance.”

Who knows, within the next 5-10 years, hospitalists, and potentially doctors in all specialties, might see 20% to 50% of their compensation tied to performance. I think that might be a good thing, as long as we can come up with effective measures of performance and value—not an easy thing to do in any business or industry.

Matching Performance Compensation to Medicare’s Value-Based Modifier

It makes sense for physician compensation to generally mirror Medicare and other payor professional fee reimbursement formulas. But, in that regard, hospitalists are ahead of the market already, because the portion of dollars allocated to performance (value) in hospitalist compensation plans already exceeds the 2% or less portion of Medicare reimbursement that is influenced by performance.

Medicare will steadily increase the portion of reimbursement allocated to performance (value) and decrease the part tied solely to wRVUs. So it makes sense that hospitalist compensation plans should do the same. Who knows, within the next 5-10 years, hospitalists, and potentially doctors in all specialties, might see 20% to 50% of their compensation tied to performance. I think that might be a good thing, as long as we can come up with effective measures of performance and value—not an easy thing to do in any business or industry.

Future Role of Productivity Compensation

I don’t think all the talk about value-based reimbursement means we should abandon the idea of connecting a portion of compensation to productivity. The first two practice management columns I wrote for The Hospitalist appeared in May 2006 (www.the-hospitalist.org/details/article/252413/The_Sweet_Spot.html) and June 2006 (www.the-hospitalist.org/details/article/246297.html) and recommended tying a meaningful portion of compensation to individual hospitalist productivity, and I think it still makes sense to do so.

click for large version

Figure 1. Distribution of total hospitalist compensation; non-academic groups serving adults only
Source: 2012 State of Hospital Medicine report

In any business or industry, financial performance is connected to the amount of product produced and its value. In the future, both metrics will determine reimbursement for even the highest performing healthcare providers. The new emphasis on value won’t ever make it unnecessary to produce at a reasonable level.

Unquestionably, there are many high-performing hospitalist practices with little or no productivity component in the compensation formula. So it isn’t an absolute sine qua non for success. But I think many practices dismiss it as a viable option when it might solve problems and liberate individuals in the group to exercise some autonomy in finding their own sweet spot between workload and compensation.

It will be interesting to see if future surveys show that the portion of dollars tied to hospitalist productivity continues to decrease, despite what I see as its potential benefits.


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 john.nelson@nelsonflores.com.

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