After 3 years of increases, cardiologists’ salaries drop 4%

The average U.S. cardiologist’s salary dropped by 4 percent last year, to $559,568, MedAxiom reported in its annual Cardiovascular Provider Compensation & Production Survey. The dip follows three consecutive years of salary hikes that reached an all-time high in 2016.

MedAxiom’s 43-page report, which surveyed 186 healthcare groups, 2,637 physicians and 4,005 providers, found all cardiologists, regardless of subspecialty, saw compensation cuts last year. Interventional physicians came out on top with average earnings of $600,000—just 0.22 percent more than electrophysiologists—while general cardiologists got the short end of the stick, with an average 10 percent salary decrease to $480,000.

Some numbers from the survey are familiar from previous years, according to the report, including overall work relative value units (wRVUs), which have remained flat across the board for the past half-decade. Physicians dropped from 11,000 wRVUs per full-time cardiologist in 2016 to 10,000 wRVUs in 2017, but that difference isn’t significant. In line with past findings, private physicians outproduced integrated cardiologists by just more than 7 percent last year.

Production rates were highest in the South in 2017, which first author and MedAxiom Consulting vice president Joel Sauer said was likely a result of a physician shortage in the area combined with the high incidence of heart disease in the Southern population. The West, which Sauer noted was more diverse demographically, saw the lowest production rates.

Production levels correlated with salaries, and cardiologists in the South brought home around $120,000 more on average than those in the Northeast. 

MedAxiom’s report also noted the impact of an aging cardiology workforce on the profession; it found nearly 40 percent of cardiologists are 56 or older and nearly 25 percent are 61 or older. The percentage of part-time cardiologists has also dropped by half since 2012, the survey read, to just under 6 percent.

“This is particularly notable since there has been much written and said about the aging cardiology workforce, including in previous years of this publication,” Sauer wrote in the report. “With [the older] age demographic it would seem logical to see an increase in the part-time workforce, but the opposite is the case.”

MedAxiom president Pat White, MPH, said in the report this year’s survey is among the company’s most thorough.

“We have seen significant changes in healthcare delivery and the economics surrounding those changes,” he wrote. “We have responded by putting greater focus on populations and value. These latter data will help our industry better align the economics of providers and health systems around what really matters to patients and families.”