Median physician income slumped 1.2% in 1997 after rising two years in a row, according to the American Medical Association's latest survey, a summary of which was released last week.
Physician income fell to $164,000 from $166,000 in 1996, according to the AMA.
The drop followed a 4.4% increase in median income in 1996 and a 4.6% rise the previous year.
The survey is based on a random telephone poll of 4,000 post-resident, nonfederal allopathic physicians who are engaged in patient care.
AMA officials declined to comment on the figures, which were the subject of controversy at the 1998 AMA House of Delegates meeting. Some delegates, unhappy with how the media had portrayed physician income gains, called for the survey to be discontinued or its results kept confidential.
The AMA did not release average figures, nor figures for specific specialties. That data will be included in a full report, titled Physician Socioeconomic Statistics, 1999-2000 Edition, scheduled to be published later this month.
The AMA devoted about half of its two-page summary to background, noting that physicians' median income had failed to keep pace with inflation in recent years, falling an average of 1.4% in real terms between 1993 and 1997. The summary also cited a 1994 study showing that physicians had lower rates of return on investment in education, compared with businesspeople and lawyers.
Other survey findings:
* A trend toward employed physicians sharply reversed. The percentage of employed physicians dropped to 36.1% in 1998 from 38.8% in 1997 and 38.1% in 1996. Some 62.3% of physicians were self-employed last year, compared with 56.6% in 1997 and 57.7% in 1996. Independent contractors made up only 1.6% of the physician work force, compared with 4.7% in 1997 and 4.2% in 1996.
* Some 41.5% of self-employed physicians were in solo practice in 1998, while 43.4% of employee physicians practiced in groups of nine or more.
* In 1998, physicians worked a median of 48 weeks per year and 55 hours per week. Self-employed physicians spent 57 hours per week in professional activities, compared with 51 hours for employee physicians.
The full report can be ordered from the AMA by calling 800-621-8335.