Radiologists’ $427K salary places specialty in top 5, though COVID may take a bite

Radiologists on average earn about $427,000, according to a new survey of physicians, placing the specialty in the top-five highest paid. However, the COVID-19 pandemic may be taking a bite out of wages, especially for those whose compensation is based on productivity.

The tally represents a nearly 2% uptick from the $419,000 rads received in the previous salary report, Medscape reported Thursday. And this year’s numbers again have imaging in the upper echelon of physician earners, behind only orthopedics ($511,000), plastic surgery ($479,000), otolaryngology ($455,000), and cardiology ($438,000).

Medscape conducted its survey of 17,461 physicians between October and February, before the COVID-19 outbreak was declared a pandemic. The authors noted that it’s likely physicians have seen their compensation tugged downward during the crisis, given that practices are reporting a 55% dip in revenue and 60% drop in volume. The “financial fallout is widespread," the report noted, with many offices forced to close or significantly reduce hours.

“Private practices will start seeing big drops in revenue. When that happens, many of them will be in big trouble because they don’t have much of a financial cushion,” Travis Singleton, senior vice president of physician recruitment firm Merritt Hawkins, told Medscape.

The numbers include docs from all arrangements—with employed-physician pay totals incorporating salary, bonus and profit sharing. Self-employed estimates, meanwhile, include earnings after taxes and deductible business expenses, but before income taxes are subtracted.  

About 55% of specialists said they receive an incentive bonus, and 75% of hospitals offer one, the report noted. And the two most common types of such pay add-ons are collections bonuses and those based on relative-value units. The former is paid out when a doctor reaches a benchmark and additionally generates a net profit, with the chance to keep part of such gains. RVUs, meanwhile, measure productivity and are tracked through electronic health records.

There have been widespread reports of massive drops in imaging volume in the past two months, with industry giant Rad Partners, for one, noting a roughly 60% dip in RVUs on the outpatient side, as of early April.

Radiologists also placed in the top 5 in largest doc bonuses received, Medscape found. The specialty on average landed about $77,000 in such incentive pay, behind only orthopedics ($96,000), otolaryngology ($91,000) and ophthalmology ($85,000). The average incentive bonus is about 13% of total salary, which varies by specialty, Medscape reported. Across all respondents, specialists said they earned about 69% of their possible bonus.

Here are a few more interesting radiology-related tidbits from the survey, which included more than 500 rads:

  • Radiologists’ roughly 2% gain landed the specialty in the middle of the pack, alongside urologists, cardiologists, plastic surgeons, critical care and OB/GYNs. Public health and preventive-medicine specialists saw the biggest gain at 11%.
  • Radiology actually scored near the bottom in terms of women working in the field at 21%, ahead of a handful of other specialties, with urology’s 10% at the bottom. OB-GYN and pediatrics landed on top, with female doctors representing 58% of their workforce.
  • Imaging physicians placed in the bottom three in least amount of time spent on paperwork each week at 12.3 hours. Critical care spent the most at 19.1, while ophthalmology spent the least at 9.8.
  • Rads, however, placed in the top three in claims either denied or asked for resubmission by insurers at 20%. Plastic surgeons led the way at 28%, while otolaryngology represented the bottom at 13%.
  • Radiologists tied for the highest percentage of respondents saying they feel fairly compensated at 67%, same as oncologists and emergency medicine specialists. Nephrologists expressed the least satisfaction with their pay at 44%.
  • About 93% of radiologists surveyed said they would choose the specialty again if they had the opportunity, placing it sixth on the list. Orthopedics led the way at 97%, while internal medicine represented the bottom at 66%.

You can read the entire 2020 Medscape Physician Compensation Report here, and our coverage of the 2019 report here.