How has Covid-19 affected physician’s income? Many believe a career in medicine ensures a bright future and financial security for life. But how has Covid-19 affected physician’s income? The disruptions caused by the pandemic had completely unanticipated effects on physicians’ income in the United States. Physicians’ jobs are not insulated from the economy at large. Our economy is an interdependent organism, comprised of several different bustling sectors. This means that the economic vulnerability created by the pandemic has affected every component of our economy – especially healthcare.
Physicians are paid for providing medical services to patients. This means that they make their money by billing patients. However, since the outbreak of Covid-19, millions of Americans have filed for unemployment. A consequence of this is that many of them no longer have insurance to pay for medical services. In addition to not having money for hospital visits, Americans have been urged to stay away from public places due to quarantine policies. Since less people have made medical visits, there is less money in the healthcare system. As a result, physicians are not paid. After all, healthcare and the economy are inseparable.
Statistics Detailing the Impact of COVID-19 on Physicians
The 2020 Medscape Physician Compensation Report details how COVID-19 has affected physician income. It states, “practices report a 55% decrease in revenue and a 60% decrease in patient volume on average since the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis.” The report also notes that “9% of independent practices reported closing their practices, at least temporarily.” Additionally, in March alone, 43,000 healthcare workers were laid off. This number included physicians. Although the report also showed that remote patient care engagement rose by 225%, it did not make up for the thousands of laid off healthcare workers and physicians. While some lost their jobs, others lost incentive bonuses or night differentials.
Furthermore, the report stated that specialties that rely on elective procedures saw the largest amount of lost business. Some of those specialties include orthopedics, plastic surgery, dermatology, cardiology, and ophthalmology. As a result of fewer elective surgeries, some hospitals have asked physicians to take pay cuts or furloughs. Many private practices have adopted similar strategies. The result is less money going to healthcare workers, even as many physicians have had to work harder and longer to help patients survive Covid-19. These statistics show that illness on a national or global scale can harm physician incomes in a dreadful way. Simply put, when physicians cannot work, income is lost.
Covid-19 and Physicians’ New Realities
Physicians also have a lot of expenses to consider. Aside from debt, many have leases on building space and medical equipment. Additionally, private practices and hospitals have employee wages to consider and malpractice insurance to cover. For self-employed physicians, retirement funding and health insurance costs are at the forefront of their personal expenses. Since physicians are lifelong learners, they must also consider the cost of continuing education and licensure. Although physicians earn a lot, they also have many expenses that cause them to spend a lot. The economic impact of Covid-19 has made the realities of these costs and expenses much more visible and painful.
For many physicians, moving jobs within the healthcare industry can takes several months to a full year due to credentialing. Sometimes the process is prolonged because a new state licensure is needed. The process of job transitioning within healthcare is complex and tiresome. However, no matter how badly physicians needs jobs and employers need doctors amidst this grave pandemic, the process is unlikely to change.
Uncertainty in the Healthcare Industry
According to an article by John Murphy on trends in physician income, “at the peak of the pandemic, physician practices experienced a 60% decrease in patient volume.” This significant decline in patients stunted growth in the healthcare industry and left many unanswered questions about the future. As stated earlier, there were many medical fields that had to delay elective procedures, thereby sacrificing a major source of revenue. Although many private practices, hospitals, and surgery centers are open for business again, daily routines are still not completely normal. Many precautions and safety guidelines are in place because of Covid-19. To comply with these safeguards, physicians must take more time between patient visits. This unused time takes up a large chunk of the workday and also decreases the volume of daily appointments and procedures.
According to a recent healthcare provider survey, respondents who reported a decrease in 2020 income say they have or will receive 22.4% less income on average due to COVID-19. The top five specialties that reported a decrease in income were Family Practice, Anesthesiology, Internal Medicine, Emergency Medicine, and General Surgery.
What’s Next for Physicians?
2020 has been an extremely volatile year so far. There is no way to tell for sure whether physicians’ income will change in the next 12 months or beyond. Whether their incomes continue to decrease or whether they will plateau or even increase depends on a couple of factors: the upcoming 2020 presidential election and the availability of a Covid-19 vaccine. But in such uncertain times, one thing holds true: America needs its doctors now more than ever before. While we can hope the economy will correct itself quickly, we do not know what lies in the coming months. Even the most lucrative and seemingly stable of jobs can evaporate. Physicians are just as vulnerable to economic downturns like the rest of us. Has Covid-19 affected physician’s income? The short answer is a resounding yes!
Brown, Andy, et al. “Physician Earnings in 2020: Before and after COVID-19 Hit the US.” The DO, 2 June 2020, thedo.osteopathic.org/2020/06/physician-earnings-in-2020-before-and-after-covid-19-hit-the-us/.
Kane, Leslie. “Medscape Physician Compensation Report 2020.” Latest Medical News, Clinical Trials, Guidelines – Today on Medscape, 14 May 2020, www.medscape.com/slideshow/2020-compensation-overview 6012684?src=WNL_physrep_200514_comp2020.
Murphy, John. “New Survey Shows Troubling Trend in Physicians’ Income.” MDLinx, 10 Sept. 2020, www.mdlinx.com/article/new-survey-shows-troubling-trend-in-physicians-income/4yJZdIMztFlBMMe0ewC8AX.