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Clinical Laboratories and Pathology Groups

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News, Analysis, Trends, Management Innovations for
Clinical Laboratories and Pathology Groups

Hosted by Robert Michel
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Medscape Report on Physician Salaries in 2020 Shows Pathologists at Middle in Pay, but Near Top in Job Satisfaction

Though pathology salaries rank 16th among 29 medical specialties, it is in the top 10 among specialties that attract women and respondents say that comes with a lot of paperwork

Despite “hardships” brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, 18,000 physicians in more than 29 medical specialties who participated in Medscape’s 2021 Physician Compensation Report said that, overall, their 2020 income was similar to prior years. Pathologists reported earnings in 2020 of $316,000, $28,000 below the average specialist’s salary of $344,000.

The average pathologist’s salary ranked 16th among medical specialty salaries.

Compared to 2019, medical specialists on average made $2,000 less in 2020. The average salary for primary care doctors was $242,000 in 2020, down $1,000 from 2019, according to a Medscape news release.

“Physicians experienced a challenging year on numerous fronts, including weathering the volatile financial impact of lockdowns,” said Leslie Kane, Senior Director, Medscape Business of Medicine, in the news release. “Our report shows that many were able to pivot to use telemedicine and focus on tactics that would protect their practices.”

Medscape, a health information provider that is part of the WebMD network, said that in addition to telehealth, doctors turned to MACRA (Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act of 2015) value-based payment reward programs and other strategies to minimize the effects of office closures last year.

“COVID took a terrible emotional toll on physicians and healthcare workers, and many are still struggling financially, but our findings showed that physicians will innovate and change quickly to meet the needs of patients through extremely difficult times,” said Leslie Kane (above), Senior Director, Medscape’s Business of Medicine, in the news release. Pathologists who were at the center of the nation’s COVID-19 pandemic response would likely echo her sentiments. (Photo copyright: Medscape.)

Pathology Salary Unchanged

To complete its study, Medscape asked physicians to take a 10-minute online survey. The reported findings included responses from 17,903 physicians (61% male, 36% female) practicing in more than 29 specialties between October 2020 and February 2021.

Pathologists who participated in the survey reported no change in their annual salary since 2019. Other specialties that reported no salary change include:

  • Family medicine,
  • Infectious diseases,
  • Ophthalmology, and
  • Orthopedics/orthopedic surgery.

Top 10 Medical Specialty Salaries

Medscape’s report listed these top-10 medical specialties as earning the highest salaries (see the graphic below for the full list of medical specialties surveyed):

Specialist Salary Increases and Decreases

Contrary to what many specialists reported, plastic surgeons did not experience slowdowns in appointments during the COVID-19 pandemic. In fact, not only did plastic surgeons earn the most, at 10% they are the medical specialists who got the biggest increase in pay of previous years as well.

According to the American Academy of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery (AAFPRS), which conducted its own salary survey of its member surgeons, “70% of AAFPRS surgeons report an increase in bookings and treatments over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, with nine in 10 facial plastic surgeons indicating an increase of more than 10%. Surgical procedures are the most common procedures as part of this upsurge, perhaps cancelling out any decreases that might have resulted from the economic crisis and lockdowns.”

Other specialist salaries which Medscape found increased in 2020 include:

  • Oncology: up 7%
  • Rheumatology and cardiology: up 5%
  • Diabetes/endocrinology: up 4%
  • Neurology, critical care, psychiatry: up 3%
  • General surgery, urology, public health/preventive medicine: up 2%

Medical specialties that reported reductions in salary included:

  • Otolaryngology and allergy/immunology: down 9%
  • Pediatrics and anesthesiology: down 5%
  • Dermatology: down 4%
  • Pulmonary medicine, physical medicine, gastroenterology, and radiology: down 3%
  • Emergency medicine and internal medicine: down 1%

About 92% of physicians surveyed indicated that the COVID-19 pandemic caused their income to decline. Also, 22% of doctors noted they experienced loss of work hours.

Pathologists Received Low Average Bonuses

Reporting on receipt of incentive bonuses, Medscape ranked pathology in the bottom half of its list with $42,000 as an average bonus. The top incentive bonuses went to those practicing:

  • Orthopedics/orthopedics surgery: $116,000
  • Ophthalmology: $87,000
  • Otolaryngology: $72,000

About 59% of primary care physicians and 55% of specialists surveyed reported receiving an incentive bonus.

Pathologists Rank High in Job Satisfaction

In responding to a question about compensation, pathologists ranked near the top (seventh position) with 64% saying they are content with their pay. Others expressing salary satisfaction included:

  • Oncology: 79%
  • Psychiatry: 69%
  • Plastic surgery: 68%
  • Dermatology: 67%
  • Public health/preventive medicine: 66%
  • Radiology: 65%
  • Pathology: 64%

Pathology Popular Among Women MDs

Medscape found that women MDs chose certain medical specialties more often than others, including pathology, which ranked eighth. The top eight specialties employing female physicians are:

  • Pediatrics: 61%
  • Obstetrics/gynecology: 59%
  • Diabetes/endocrinology: 50%
  • Family medicine: 47%
  • Dermatology: 46%
  • Infectious diseases: 46%
  • Internal medicine: 44%
  • Pathology: 43%

Specialties with the fewest female physicians are:

  • Plastic and general surgery: 20%
  • Cardiology: 14%
  • Urology: 11%
  • Orthopedics/orthopedics surgery: 9%

Pathology a Leader in Paperwork

Medscape also surveyed physicians as to the estimated hours they spend per week on paperwork and administration. Here, pathology ranked the fifth highest with 19%, while radiologists and hospital-based physicians were third from the bottom with 11.6%.

Specialists that reported the highest hours spent on paperwork include:

  • Infectious diseases: 24%
  • Public health/preventive medicine: 20.7%
  • Nephrology: 19.8%
  • Internal medicine: 19.7%
  • Pathology: 19%

If They Could Do It Again, Most Would

Amid a trying year, the Medscape survey respondents made an encouraging point: 78% of them said they would choose medicine as a career again. And 85% of pathologists said they would choose the same specialty.

Medscape’s report may be helpful to hospital-based clinical laboratory leaders preparing salary budgets and to pathologists in salary negotiations and determining professional responsibilities.

—Donna Marie Pocius

Related Information:

Medscape Physician Compensation Report: The Recovery Begins 2021

Medscape Physician Compensation Report Shows Salaries Held Steady Despite Pandemic

A Pandemic of Dysmorphia: “Zooming” into the Perception of Our Appearance

AAFPRS Announces annual Survey Results, A Look at How COVID-19 Disrupted Facial Plastic Surgery

Blockchain Technology Could Impact How Clinical Laboratories and Pathology Groups Exchange Lab Test Data

Insurers might use blockchain technology to enable instantaneous verification and interoperability of healthcare records, which could impact clinical laboratory payment systems

Medical laboratories and anatomic pathology groups are keenly aware that connected, secure, interoperable health records are critical to smooth, efficient workflows. However, the current often dysfunctional state of health information technology (HIT) in America’s healthcare system often disrupts the security and functionality of information exchange between hospital and ancillary practice patient record systems.

One solution to this could be blockchain technology. With its big data and abundant touchpoints (typically: insurer, laboratory, physician, hospital, and home care), the healthcare industry could be ripe for blockchain information exchanges. Blockchain might enable secure and trusted linkage of payer, provider, and patient data. But what exactly is blockchain technology and how might it impact your laboratory?

Blockchains Could Transform Healthcare

Blockchain refers to a decentralized and distributed ledger that enables the interface of computer servers for the purpose of making, tracking, and storing linked transactions.

“At its core, blockchain is a distributed system recording and storing transaction records. More specifically, blockchain is a shared, immutable record of peer-to-peer transactions built from linked transaction blocks and stored in a digital ledger,” explained risk-management group Deloitte in a report, which goes on to state:

  • “Blockchain technology has the potential to transform healthcare, placing the patient at the center of the healthcare ecosystem and increasing the security, privacy, and interoperability of health data. This technology could provide a new model for health information exchanges (HIE) by making electronic medical records more efficient, disintermediated, and secure.
  • “Blockchain relies on established cryptographic techniques to allow each participant in a network to interact (e.g., store, exchange, and view information), without pre-existing trust between the parties.
  • “In a blockchain system, there is no central authority; instead, transaction records are stored and distributed across all network participants. Interactions with the blockchain become known to all participants and require verification by the network before information is added, enabling trustless collaboration between network participants while recording an immutable audit trail of all interactions.”

Key principles of blockchain (above) demonstrate the decentralization of the healthcare data. In some ways, this resembles electronic health record (EHR) systems that feature federated databases, rather than centralized databases. (Image copyright: Deloitte.)

Instant Verifications and Authorizations at Point-of-Care

In a Healthcare Finance News (HFN) article, insurers acknowledged blockchain’s potential for information verification and authorizations in real-time, fast payments, and access to patient databases that could fulfill population health goals.

“Everybody that is part of a transaction has access to the network. There’s no need for an intermediary. Blockchain allows for verification instantly,” noted Chris Kay, JD, Senior Vice President and Chief Innovation Officer at Humana, in the HFN article.

At clinical laboratories, blockchain could enable nearly instantaneous verification of a patient’s health insurance at time of service. Blockchain also could enable doctors to review a patient’s medical laboratory test results in real-time, even when multiple labs are involved in a person’s care.

“Everyone has to have a node on the blockchain and have a server linked to the blockchain. The servers are the ones talking to one another,” explained Kay. “What’s really transformative about this is it takes the friction out of the system. If I see a doctor, the doctor knows what insurance I have because it’s on the network. All this is verified through underlying security software.”

Healthcare Obstacles to Overcome

Breaking down data silos and loosening proprietary holds on information can help healthcare providers prepare for blockchain. However, in our highly regulated industry, blockchain is at least five years away, according to blockchain experts in a Healthcare IT News (HIT News) article.

“We’re hearing that blockchain is going to revolutionize the way we interact with and store data. But it’s not going to happen tomorrow. Let’s find smaller problems we can solve as a starting point—projects that don’t have the regulatory hurdles—and then take baby steps that don’t require breaking down all the walls,” advised Joe Guagliardo, JD, Intellectual Property/Technology Attorney and Chair of the Blockchain Technology Group at Pepper Hamilton, a Philadelphia-based law firm, in the HIT News article.

Healthcoin: Rewarding Patients for Improved Biomarkers

One company has already started to work with blockchain in healthcare. Healthcoin is a blockchain-based platform aimed at prevention of diabetes, heart disease, and obesity. The idea is for employers, insurers, and others to use Healthcoin (now in pre-launch) to reward people based on biomarker improvements shown in medical laboratory tests.

Healthcoin’s Chief Executive Officer Diego Espinosa and Chief Operating Officer Nick Gogerty, founded the company in 2016 after Espinosa, who had been diagnosed with diabetes, made diet changes to reverse it, according to an article in Bitcoin Magazine.

“When I saw my blood labs, the idea for Healthcoin was born—shifting the focus of prevention to ‘moving the needle’ on biomarkers, as opposed to just measuring steps,” Espinosa told Bitcoin Magazine.

Blockchain Provides Security

What does blockchain provide that isn’t available through other existing technologies?  According to Deloitte, it’s security and trust.

“Today’s health records are typically stored within a single provider system. With blockchain, providers could either select which information to upload to a shared blockchain when a patient event occurs, or continuously upload to the blockchain,” Deloitte notes. “Blockchain’s security and ability to establish trust between entities are the reasons why it can help solve the interoperability problem better than today’s existing technologies.”

Should Clinical Laboratories Prepare for Blockchain?

It’s important to note that insurers are contemplating blockchain and making relevant plans and strategies. Dark Daily believes the potential exists for blockchain technology to both disrupt existing business relationships, including those requiring access to patient test data, and to create new opportunities to leverage patient test data in real-time that could generate new revenue sources for labs. Thus, to ensure smooth payments, medical laboratory managers and pathology group stakeholders should explore blockchain’s value to their practices.

—Donna Marie Pocius


Related Information:

Blockchain Opportunities for Health Care: A New Model for Health Information Exchanges

Blockchain Will Link Payer, Provider, Patient Data Like Never Before

Old Ways of Thinking Won’t Work for Blockchain, Experts Say

Blockchain-Styled Solutions for Healthcare on the Rise

Can Blockchain Give Healthcare Payers Better Analytical Insight?

Blockchain in Health and Life Insurance: Turning a Buzzword into a Breakthrough

Does Blockchain Have a Place in Healthcare?

Consumer Reports Says Thousands of Doctors Facing Medical Probation Continue to See Patients; Calls for More Patient Access to Physician Disciplinary Records

Latest calls for easier public access to information on physician performance and quality is a reminder to clinical laboratories and pathology groups of the trend to greater transparency on provider outcomes

If any clinical laboratory executive or pathologist still doubts that more transparency of provider outcomes is a topic of interest to patients, they have only to look at Consumer Reports, well-respected for its advocacy on behalf of consumers. Consumer Reports is using multiple ways to educate their readers about medical errors and how the medical community makes it difficult for consumers to learn about physicians who have been involved in state medical board investigations.

One example is the Consumers Union, which is the policy and advocacy arm of Consumer Reports. Through its Safe Patient Project, the Consumers Union seeks to eliminate medical harm in healthcare.

Consumers Union advocates for increased public disclosure of information about such issues as: (more…)

Generational Differences Now Reshaping Physician Attitudes and Will Likely Affect Private Pathology Group Practices

One consequence of the difference in intergenerational attitudes of physicians is the trend to more employee physicians

For the dominant generation working in healthcare today—the Baby Boomers—retirement looms. At the same time, however, the younger generation—particularly Generation X—is acquiring the experience and maturity needed to assume leadership roles. As these individuals move into senior executive and administrative positions, healthcare experts are predicting growing conflict over the role of physicians in the new models of integrated healthcare now taking shape in this country.

This is a demographic and societal trend with major implications for the operating culture of clinical laboratories and anatomic pathology groups. Generation X physicians, including young pathologists, are ready to challenge Baby Boomer physicians about the best way to organize and deliver clinical services. (more…)

LA Times Reports That California Patients Who Pay Cash Get Rock-Bottom Price Discounts from Hospitals and Physicians

Clinical labs and pathology groups will want to be prepared for cash-paying patients who demand discounted prices for medical laboratory tests

For decades, it has typically been difficult for a patient to get, in advance of treatment, a specific price from a healthcare provider. This has been true, whether the provider was a hospital, an office-based physician, or an ancillary clinical service. This lack of “price transparency” makes it difficult for patients to shop for healthcare providers—including clinical laboratories—based on the same combination of quality and price that they use to make other important purchases in their lives.

Recently, the Los Angeles Times looked into the arcane world of healthcare pricing. Its reporter was astonished to discover that, in California, it was possible for a cash-paying patient to be charged a price by a hospital that was just 16% of the “patient list price.” Furthermore, this cash price was less than half of what that hospital had negotiated with at least one major health plan! (more…)