Rising patient volumes are contributing to increased physician productivity and revenues for 2021, according to data from more than 125,000 physicians nationwide. At the same time, median expenses and investments per physician continue to climb above pre-pandemic levels, the latest results from May show. Physician practices and the health systems that employ them will need to respond with aggressive performance improvement initiatives to maximize efficiencies and curb mounting costs.
The top five financial and operational KPIs from May 2021 for U.S. physician practices are:
#1 — Volume, productivity up compared to prior years
As of May, physician productivity — measured as Physician work Relative Value Units (wRVUs) per Full-Time Equivalent (FTE) — was up 11.4% over 2020 and 1.7% over 2019 medians, indicating a continued return of patient volumes as COVID-19 rates wane in much of the country. Medical Specialties saw the biggest increase compared to pre-pandemic levels, with productivity up 7.1% from 2019.
#2 — Revenue surpassing pre-pandemic levels
Physician revenues rose with increasing volumes and productivity. Net Revenue per Physician FTE for 2021 was on track to outpace 2019 levels by 4.1% and 2020 levels by 11.8%, based on May medians.
#3 — Expenses continue to rise above pre-COVID rates
Physician expenses continue to climb, with Total Direct Expense per Physician FTE up 7.9% above 2020 and 5.5% above 2019 levels, the May results show. Psychiatry had the biggest jump compared to 2019, while Primary Care was close to pre-pandemic levels — up just 0.3% from 2019. Aggressive cost containment measures are needed to curtail rising expenses.
#4 — Per-physician investments continue to escalate
The median Investment per Physician FTE required to supplement physician revenues fell -5.5% to $221,406 in May compared to 2020, but remained 11.1% higher than 2019. While Obstetrics/Gynecology (OB/GYN) and Primary Care were close to pre-pandemic levels, both Surgical Specialties and Psychiatry were up more than 16% from 2019.
#5 — Physicians require more Support Staff than in 2019 and 2020
The amount of Support Staff required in May was higher than in both 2019 and 2020, with Support Staff FTEs per 10,000 wRVUs results up 9.0% and 1.0%, respectively. These increases are among several factors contributing to increased physician expenses seen so far in 2021.
Spotlight on 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 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. Annualized May 2021 Psychiatry data indicates:
- Investment per Physician FTE increased 5% from 2019 and 16.9% from 2020
- Total Direct Expense per Physician FTE jumped 23.3% from 2019 and 15% from 2020
Psychiatry also saw the largest increase in Support Staff FTEs per 10,000 wRVUs compared to pre-pandemic levels — up 20.4% from 2019, but down -14.9% from 2020 highs.
Recovery Efforts Require Robust Data
The data illustrates the continued financial impacts of the pandemic on physician practices. Physician practices and the health systems that operate them need reliable data to track KPIs in real time and effectively guide recovery efforts.
Syntellis’ Axiom™ Comparative Analytics solution empowers healthcare leaders to leverage data to monitor performance across the physician enterprise, identify opportunities for improvement, and make more informed decisions.
Axiom Comparative Analytics offers access to real-time data drawn from more than 125,000 physicians from over 10,000 practices and 139 specialty categories. Healthcare finance leaders can break out the data by individual physician, non-provider staff, job code, pay type, and account levels. The data can be customized into specific peer groups — by specialty performance, regional comparisons, urban versus rural, etc. — for unparalleled comparisons to drive operational decisions and performance improvement initiatives.