Also Appearing in This Week’s JAMA


Earnings of U.S. Physicians Grow Less Than Other Health Professionals  

“Understanding trends in physician earnings is important given health care cost growth and proposed Medicare physician fee reductions,” writes Seth A. Seabury, Ph.D., of the RAND Corporation, Santa Monica, Calif., and colleagues. National surveys find that annual physician incomes decreased between 1995 and 2003. Other surveys suggest that physician incomes increased only slightly since 2004. “However, little is known about how growth in physician earnings compares with other health professionals. Comparing physicians and other health professionals is necessary to assess whether physician labor earnings have outpaced or lagged behind earnings growth of other workers in the health care sector.”

As reported in a Research Letter, the authors estimated annual earnings and hourly wages of physicians and other health professionals from the Current Population Survey (CPS), a nationally representative monthly survey of approximately 60,000 households, and examined growth rates from 1987-1990 to 1996-2000 and from 1996-2000 to 2006-2010. This sample included 30,556 respondents across all years who reported working as health professionals, including 6,258 physicians (20.5 percent).

The researchers found that physician earnings fluctuated over the study period. During 1987-1990, median (midpoint) earnings for physicians were $143,963 compared with $157,751 during 2006-2010 ($13,788 increase or growth of 9.6 percent). Other health professionals experienced larger growth in earnings from 1987-1990 to 2006-2010 (e.g., pharmacists earnings increased by $30,938 or 44.0 percent). From 1996-2000 to 2006-2010, there was no significant growth in adjusted earnings for physicians (-1.6 percent). Adjusted earnings continued to increase for other health professionals from 1996-2000 to 2006-2010 (e.g., pharmacists, 34.4 percent). Similar patterns were noted for wages.

“Despite attention paid to higher earnings of physicians in the United States compared with other countries, physician earnings grew less than those of other health professionals in the last 15 years. Possible explanations include managed care growth, Medicaid payment cuts, sluggish Medicare payment growth, or bargaining by insurance companies. Despite lack of recent growth, physician earnings remain higher than other occupations.”

(JAMA. 2012;308[20]:2083-2085. Available pre-embargo to the media at


Viewpoints in This Week’s JAMA

Medical Documentation in the Electronic Era

C. Jason Wang, M.D., Ph.D., of Stanford University, Stanford, Calif., examines the challenges presented by the implementation and use of electronic health records for patient-centered care.

“The current era of electronic communication has both benefits and perils. Electronic health records can serve as a platform with personal health records for coordinated patient-centered care by allowing clinicians to communicate quickly with one another and providing patients critical information about their own health. To fully realize these benefits, ‘search’ and ‘retrieval’ mechanisms must be supported by simple, unambiguous, standardized language. Electronic health records also must include mechanisms to promote synthesis of clinical data to avoid information overload. However, by relying on the GPS (global positioning system) mentality that ‘the computer will help me find it,’ clinicians will gradually be relegated to technicians.”

(JAMA. 2012;308[20]:2091-2092. Available pre-embargo to the media at


Toward a Harmonized and Centralized Conflict of Interest Disclosure – Progress From an IOM Initiative

In this Viewpoint, Allen S. Lichter, M.D., of the American Society of Clinical Oncology, Alexandria, Va., and Ross McKinney, M.D., of Duke University School of Medicine, Durham, N.C., discuss the need and development of a “harmonized, centralized [conflict of interest] disclosure system to be created for the benefit of everyone who must produce or receive disclosure information.”

“Such a system can be designed and implemented as one element in a process to help ensure that research can progress in a trusted, transparent fashion, thereby increasing trust among the public and health care professionals in new medical products that are brought to the benefit of patients.”

(JAMA. 2012;308[20]:2093-2094. Available pre-embargo to the media at

Editor’s Note: Please see the articles for additional information, including other authors, author contributions and affiliations, financial disclosures, funding and support, etc.

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