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Physician compensation models: Pros and cons for physician recruiters


physician walking on towers of coins Posted by Megan Trippi
physician walking on towers of coins

As you move candidates through the recruitment process, they will inevitably ask about compensation. To attract and retain top talent, it’s important to understand the intricacies of physician compensation models.

What are physician compensation models?

Physician compensation models are the financial frameworks that determine how physicians are paid for their services. These methods have evolved over the years and continue to adapt to changing healthcare landscapes. Let’s explore some common compensation models and their advantages and disadvantages:

  1. Relative Value Units (RVUs)

RVU is the most common physician compensation model used today and is also known as straight productivity or volume-based care where physicians are paid based on the volume of services they provide. Each service, test or procedure is billed separately, and physicians receive payment for each one.


  • Incentivizes productivity

RVU encourages physicians to see more patients and perform more procedures, which can lead to increased revenue for the organization.

  • Transparency

The system is straightforward, making it easy for physicians to understand their compensation.

  • Flexibility

Physicians have control over their income based on their workload.


  • Quality vs. Quantity

RVUs can incentivize overutilization of services, potentially compromising the quality of patient care.

  • Administrative burden

The billing and paperwork associated with RVUs can be time consuming and costly.

  • Limited focus on preventive care

This model may not prioritize preventive medicine since it is heavily procedure based.

  1. Straight salary (Base salary plus bonus)

Under the straight salary compensation model, physicians receive a fixed annual income regardless of the number of patients they see or services they provide. This model offers its own set of advantages and disadvantages:


  • Stability

Physicians enjoy financial stability and predictable incomes, reducing the stress associated with

fluctuations in patient volume.

  • Focus on quality

Doctors can prioritize patient care without concerns about revenue generation.

  • Team-based care

Encourages collaboration among medical professionals as compensation isn’t tied to individual services.


  • Limited financial incentives

Some physicians may lack motivation to increase their workload or take on additional responsibilities.

  • Recruitment and retention challenges

Organizations may struggle to attract physicians with competitive salaries.

  • Potential for inefficiency

Incentives for cost-conscious care may be lacking in this model.

  1. Value-based compensation

Value-based compensation models are gaining prominence in the healthcare industry. Under this approach, physicians are rewarded for delivering high-quality care while controlling costs. Here are the pros and cons:


  • Improved patient outcomes

Value-based models prioritize patient health and outcomes, leading to better care quality.

  • Cost-effectiveness

Encourages physicians to consider cost-effective treatments and preventive measures.

  • Alignment with healthcare goals

Supports the shift towards value-based care and population health management.


  • Complex measurement

Determining value-based metrics and performance can be challenging.

  • Financial risk

Physicians may be held accountable for factors beyond their control, such as patient compliance.

  • Transition hurdles

Shifting from traditional models to value-based compensation can be logistically and culturally challenging for healthcare organizations.

  1. Productivity-based compensation

Productivity-based compensation models reward physicians based on a combination of their clinical productivity, patient satisfaction and other performance metrics. Here are the pros and cons:


  • Alignment with organizational goals

Physicians’ compensation is tied to specific targets, encouraging them to contribute to the organization’s success.

  • Quality and efficiency

Promotes high-quality care and cost-effective practices to maximize earnings.

  • Flexibility

Allows for customization based on specialty and organizational goals.


  • Complexity

Determining a fair and transparent formula for compensation can be complex.

  • Potential for disagreement

Disputes may arise if physicians perceive the metrics as unfair or unrealistic.

  • Administrative burden

Requires robust tracking and reporting systems, which can require a lot of resources.


Ultimately, the ideal compensation model should not only attract top talent but also motivate physicians to provide high-quality, patient-centered care while efficiently managing resources. By understanding the nuances of different compensation models, you can navigate the healthcare landscape more effectively and build successful teams that drive positive outcomes.


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