Physicians' average net income jumped nearly 7% last year to $189,300, the highest one-year increase since 1989, according to figures released last week by the American Medical Association.
The release comes just days after a resolution that would have barred the AMA from releasing physician income data was voluntarily withdrawn from consideration by the AMA's 430-member House of Delegates.
The house held its annual interim meeting earlier this month in Hawaii.
The tabled resolution, which was introduced by a group of Michigan doctors, said the annual release of income data should be stopped because the data are "invariably used by the media to cast physicians in a negative light."
The motion likely was withdrawn because the AMA leadership has rejected similar resolutions in the past. It believes that it's in the best interests of AMA members to release what the organization considers the most accurate physician income data available rather than relying on information from other sources.
Instead, the association has attempted to put physician income data in a broader context, comparing the information with income data from other professions and explaining why physicians make more than most other people.
For example, this year's income report pointed out that physicians don't start practicing until they're in their 30s, compensation for medical residents is low, doctors incur high educational debts, and they work long hours.
Even so, physicians' average net income rose a hefty 6.7%, or more than twice the overall inflation rate of 2.7% last year.
Physicians' median net income rose 5.4%, or twice the rate of inflation, to $156,000. Medians typically are lower than averages.
The AMA report indicated that physicians earned more money in 1993 for about the same amount of work.
The average number of hours physicians spent on professional activities, including patient care, dipped to 58.4 hours last year from 58.9 hours in 1992. The average number of hours spent on direct patient care rose slightly to 48.5 hours from 48.4 hours.
The income and work-hour findings contradict the often-heard complaints from physicians and organized medicine that physician payment reform is cutting into their earning power and administrative "red tape" is reducing the time they spend with patients.
AMA officials acknowledged that most of physicians' income growth was due to higher prices for services.
An AMA spokeswoman said the association won't be incorporating salary information from medical residents and federally employed physicians into its income calculations until next year, when 1995 income data are collected by the association.
The AMA approved a plan in June to include the extra data (June 20, p. 16). The current report is based on an annual survey of 4,000 physicians in private practice.
Critics charged that the plan is a deliberate attempt to deflate physician income figures because residents and government doctors earn significantly less money than physicians in private practice. The AMA says the additional data are necessary to make its income figures more statistically valid.