Survey: Primary-Care Physicians Now Comprise Most In-Demand Specialty

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PCP-thumb3For years, if not decades, those considering a career in the medical field were told to, “Avoid primary care.” “You’ll work long hours for shoddy pay” went the reasoning.

Then came, in no particular order, the physician-shortage crisis, healthcare reform, value-based care, quality outcomes, patient satisfaction, patient safety, population health, etc. etc. etc.

Now, the specialty most in-demand for the seventh straight year, John Commins reports at HealthLeaders Media, is the family physician, a.k.a. primary care.

“This should not surprise,” Commins writes. “It has been evident for the last several years that as healthcare reform eventually mandates a shift away from fee-for-service and rewards prevention, quality outcomes, and population health, primary-care physicians will lead the way.”

Combine the byproducts of reform with the multiplying service sites, and suddenly, medical groups are “competing against other medical groups, hospitals, community health centers, urgent care centers, retail clinics, academic centers, and government facilities.”

In short, they need PCPs.

Yes, that’s right. The oft-derided specialty is now the most desired.

Furthermore, Commins says, the 1990s concept of the primary-care physician as “gatekeeper,” the specialist “who would map out and coordinate care strategies to reduce costs and waste,” is back in vogue.

Kurt Mosley, vice president of strategic alliances at Merritt Hawkins, the recruitment firm that spearheaded the study the article references, said, “Everybody wants to be in primary care. The whole mantra with healthcare reform is where your patients are, let’s be there.”

He recalled a CEO who held the philosophy, “He who retires with the most primary-care doctors wins.”

Mosley believes those days are here again.

A recent Merritt Hawkins survey found that out of 3,097 recruiting assignments over the course of one year across 48 states, 624 recruitment searches were for family physicians.

In second place, with only 194 searches, was general internal medicine. Radiology wasn’t even in the top 20 and anesthesiology didn’t even rank. Both of these specialties were in demand in the early ‘00s, Commins recalls.

Therefore, primary care is back, still in fashion, and ready for business. But what about the pay?

Commins puts it this way. Family practitioners average $185,000 a year. “Only pediatricians fared worse with an average base of $179,000.”

This may actually be the leveling out of the marketplace, Mosley said. “A key factor that people have to understand is that primary care is not necessarily growing in salary, but more specialties are coming down closer to them. We used to talk about cardiologists in the $800,000 to $900,000 range. Now they are in the $500,000s and $600,000s. Also doctors in medical homes can make a heck of a lot more money because they are paid that base salary and they are paid a maintenance fee and they are paid the malady-improvement fee. There are ways for doctors to make money. We are going to see it continue to rise.”

As healthcare executives, do the needs of your organization line up with Merritt Hawkins’ findings? Are you in need of more primary-care physicians now than you were, say, 10 years ago? How is physician employment with hospitals impacting this possible trend?

-by Pete Fernbaugh

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