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Friday, October 2, 2009

RVU ramblings

In the "Practice Pearls" section of the latest Family Practice Management, Kent Moore cites the Medical Group Management Association (which gives us the more reliable health statistics in America) on the average work RVUs generated by family physicians not doing obstetrics in 2007.

After a sentence like that, take a deep breath. The figure is 4600.

That got me wondering how many RVUs I generate per year, since I’m often prattling on about productivity. Right on time, Blue Cross sent me the rolling report on my efforts for the last three years, reproduced here:

If you divide my RVUs for this three-year period by three, and divide by 0.85 (Blue Cross is about 85 percent of my business), you get roughly 8,000. Admittedly, this includes about 20 obstetrical deliveries per year, which is hardly a back-breaking number. Remember, too, that including obstetrics (since I have given the hospitalists my inpatient work) I only work about 40 hours per week, 220 days per year, with about eight weeks of holidays and vacations.

I’m talking to medical students and family practice residents here. You know, those of you who told the Admissions Committee you wanted to go into primary care, or actually chose to do so. Now you’re wondering if it’s a viable choice.

Here are random thought bearing on that choice.

1. If I can generate 8,000 RVUs per year working the same hours as a state employee but enjoying the stimulation of intellectual challenge and terrific personal relationships, avoiding the administrative burden of the patient centered medical home while providing a place where every patient knows every one of my employees and vice versa, and while earning as much money as the average cardiothoracic surgeon, what’s not to love about this specialty?

2. What’s wrong with the practices of all those other family physicians?

3. In his blog, Kent Moore also asks why (based on a Health Affairs article) a family physician would choose to spend an average of $65,000 to comply with the diktats of insurance companies. My answer: That’s half of my expenditure for salaries, so it must be nuts. Where do people get these figures? My nurses must spend at least 90 percent of their time doing meaningful service for my patients.

4. I’ve done my level best to charge Blue Cross for every legitimate 99214 or procedure (thank you, Kent and Cindy, for an excellent column). Still, I keep proving to be 18 percent more efficient than my peers – the ones, I assume, doing only 60 percent as much work as I do. How can this be?

5. I wrote about an old friend and an old student in a recent blog post. The former quit doing OB 10 years ago and is coasting toward retirement with an aging patient panel; the latter doesn’t plan to do OB at all, which is increasingly common among FP residents. I know that OB can be inconvenient, and scary. In the last 24 hours I did a delivery at 3:30 a.m. and a vacuum extraction at 4:30 p.m (followed by a shoulder dystocia resulting in a fourth-degree laceration requiring careful repair). My question: If family physicians give up OB, and therefore a preponderance of potential pediatrics, why choose family practice over med-peds?

As I draw near the end of a year’s worth of blogs, I understand much better why I am successful, and what other family physicians need to do to be successful.  

But I am losing confidence that family practice will survive.

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About the Author

Doug Iliff, MD, is a family physician in solo practice in Topeka, Kan., and a former member of the FPM Board of Editors.

Note: This blog is no longer updated; this is archived content.

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