Graham Center One-Pager

The U.S. Primary Care Physician Workforce: Undervalued Service

Am Fam Physician. 2003 Oct 15;68(8):1486.

  Related Editorial

Primary care physicians work hard, but their compensation is not correlated to their work effort when compared with physicians in other specialties. This disparity contributes to student disinterest in primary care specialties.

From 1980 to 1999, family physicians, general internists, and general pediatricians have been outnumbered by specialists. Despite this disparity, these primary care physicians have continued to provide a larger proportion of office-based visits than specialists; while comprising a minority of physicians, primary care physicians provided a majority of visits made to doctors' offices.

The disproportionately large service commitment by primary care physicians has not been rewarded compared with other types of physicians.

Specialist Average number of patient visits per week, 1999 Net income after expenses, before taxes, 2000

Family physician

122.9

$144,700

General pediatrician

120.5

$137,800

General internist

106.5

$164,100

Gastroenterologist

89.9

$299,200

Cardiologist

92.4

$315,500

Orthopedic surgeon

114.3

$335,800


source: AMA Physician Socioeconomic Statistics, 2003 Edition, p. 186, 188, and 193.

Specialist Average number of patient visits per week, 1999 Net income after expenses, before taxes, 2000

Family physician

122.9

$144,700

General pediatrician

120.5

$137,800

General internist

106.5

$164,100

Gastroenterologist

89.9

$299,200

Cardiologist

92.4

$315,500

Orthopedic surgeon

114.3

$335,800


source: AMA Physician Socioeconomic Statistics, 2003 Edition, p. 186, 188, and 193.

Continuing to pay primary care physicians considerably less than other doctors discourages medical students from choosing primary care careers. This disparity threatens access to care and impedes achieving better health for all Americans. A better balance of physician reimbursement for care is urgently needed.

Number of Office Visits Compared with Number of Office-Based Physicians from 1980–1999

SOURCE: The National Ambulatory Care Surveys 1980-1999.

View Large

Number of Office Visits Compared with Number of Office-Based Physicians from 1980–1999


SOURCE: The National Ambulatory Care Surveys 1980-1999.

Number of Office Visits Compared with Number of Office-Based Physicians from 1980–1999


SOURCE: The National Ambulatory Care Surveys 1980-1999.

Adapted from Graham Center One-Pager #24. Biola H, Green LA, Phillips RL, Guirguis-Blake J, Fryer GE. The U.S. primary care physician workforce: undervalued service. October 2003. Available at: www.graham-center.org/x469.xml. From the Robert Graham Center: Policy Studies in Family Practice and Primary Care, 1350 Connecticut Ave., NW, Suite 950, Washington, DC 20036 (telephone: 202-986-5708; fax: 202-986-7034; e-mail: policy@aafp.org).

note: The information and opinions contained in research from the Graham Center do not necessarily reflect the views or the policy of the AAFP.

 

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