After grappling with the financial impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic for more than a year, physician practices have begun to see improvements — albeit small ones — in recent months across key financial and operational performance metrics.

Recent physician data shows that healthcare finance leaders, physician practice leaders, and medical directors nationwide have reason to be cautiously optimistic. Still, several questions remain, including: Will healthcare volumes bounce back to pre-pandemic levels across all specialties? If not, should health systems be prepared to increase their investment in physician practices? And how can the experts and consultants who work with hospitals and health systems guide them through financial recovery?

Hospital leaders, healthcare experts, and consultants are working to answer these questions using their knowledge of current market conditions. However, timely financial and operational performance data is required to empower industry experts and consultants to identify performance improvement opportunities and advise accordingly.


What’s Trending Month-by-Month

Beginning in February 2020, the Syntellis team began publishing several key performance indicators (KPIs) for physician practices across the nation, leveraging data from more than 125,000 physicians. Each month, the data told a slightly different story about which specialties were hit the hardest and which were experiencing renewed hope for recovery. The results of those physician specialty analyses are below, providing a glimpse into the insights consultants and other healthcare experts can draw from monthly data and benchmarks.


May 2021: Psychiatry

The stress of the pandemic and expansion of telemedicine caused an uptick in demand for psychiatric services in 2020, but that demand appears to be waning. Psychiatry was the only specialty to see an increase in productivity in 2020, with Physician wRVUs per FTE rising 3.7% compared to 2019. May 2021 annualized results, however, show Physician wRVUs per FTE for Psychiatry down -2.5% compared to 2019 and -5.9% from 2020.

At the same time, Psychiatry had the biggest increases of any specialties in required investment and expense per physician. May 2021 data, compared to 2020, showed:

  • Investment per Physician FTE increased 16.9%
  • Total Direct Expense per Physician FTE jumped 15%


April 2021: Surgical Specialties

As the pandemic heightened in 2020, volume and productivity in surgical specialties fell 12.3% below 2019 levels. Data from the first four months of 2021 revealed that surgical specialties are on track for a more profitable year.

Annualized April 2021 data, compared to 2020, showed:

  • Physician wRVUs per FTE was 13.8% higher
  • Revenue per Physician FTE was 19.2% higher
  • Expense per Physician FTE was 9.6% more
  • Investment per Physician FTE was 1.1% less


March 2021: Obstetrics and Gynecology

The birth rate in the U.S. fell during the COVID-19 pandemic, contributing to the country’s second slowest population growth rate since the government started counting in the 1930s, according to data released by the U.S. Census Bureau in April 2021. Interestingly, March 2021 data showed renewed hope for Obstetrics and Gynecology as these practices seemed to have recovered ground after a slow year.

March 2021 Obstetrics and Gynecology data, compared to the same three-month period in 2020, revealed:

  • Physician wRVUs per FTE increased 10.6%
  • Total Direct Expense per FTE increased 5%
  • Investment per Physician FTE fell 20.9%


February 2021: Primary Care

Despite an effective vaccine rollout in the first few months of 2021, February 2021 data indicated physician practices were slow to recover financially. Primary Care, specifically, experienced difficulty in returning to pre-pandemic levels. In February, it was clear that health systems were increasing investments — in an effort to keep practices afloat — in Primary Care more than any other specialty compared to February 2020.

Additional insights from February 2021 data compared to the same three-month period last year revealed:

  • Physician wRVUs per FTE decreased 16.4%
  • Total Direct Expense per FTE increased 2.7%
  • Investment per Physician FTE rose 49.9%
  • Support Staff FTEs increased 3%


Comparative Benchmarks Provide Context for Evaluating Physician Practices’ Financial Health

This level of analysis is made possible by data from Syntellis Market Insights, which delivers to consultants and other healthcare experts timely, robust benchmark data and provides context to what’s happening in the healthcare market as recently as the previous month.

Syntellis Market Insights empowers continuous improvement investigation and conversations with the entire healthcare enterprise by bringing together data monthly from more than 1,000 hospitals, 125,000 physicians, and non-acute facilities nationwide to give you the most objective and current view into the evolving healthcare market landscape. Leveraging these insights, you can accurately compare a hospital, health system, or physician practice’s performance to peer organizations, set improvement targets, guide organizational change, and evaluate the success of organizational transformation action plans.

Contact us to learn more.

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