The nation's physicians, on average, earned a little more money in 1997, and they had more free time to enjoy it, a new study from the American Medical Association reveals.
The average physician's net income in 1997 reached a record high of $199,600, up slightly from $199,000 in 1996, the data show.
At the same time, the average number of hours physicians spent each week on professional activities, including patient care, dipped slightly, to 57.9 in 1997 from 58.5 in 1996.
In fact, the average number of hours physicians spent on professional activities dropped to 56.6 hours per week last year, the lowest level in the past 10 years.
The AMA has yet to release income figures for 1998.
The data are based on an AMA survey last year of a random sample of 4,000 nonfederal physicians. The AMA published the survey data in Physician Socioeconomic Statistics, 1999-2000 edition.
The AMA earlier this month released partial information from the survey, including the fact that median physician income for 1997 was $164,000, down 1.2% from $166,000 the previous year (May 17, p. 6).
The AMA declined a request for an interview about the complete survey results last week.
Doctors worked 2.2% fewer hours in 1998 than in 1997, when they logged 57.9 hours, and 3.2% less than the 58.5 hours they averaged in 1996.
Work hours peaked at 59.1 in 1991, according to the survey.
Speaking on behalf of a physician who reviewed the results at MODERN HEALTHCARE's request, Stephen Shivinsky, a spokesman for Mercy Health Services in Farmington Hills, Mich., called the decrease in weekly work hours insignificant. He said the results were "inconsistent" with the physician's experience and the experience of other physicians working in the Mercy system.
Among those toiling less last year were family practitioners, with 55 hours, down 3.8% from 1997; internists, 59.5 hours, down 2.6%; surgeons, 56.4 hours, down 1%; and pediatricians, 54.2 hours, down 4.4%, the AMA survey found.
Bucking the trend in 1998 were OB/GYNs, who worked 64.3 hours, and radiologists, who worked 60.7 hours. Both labored for 13% more hours than they did the previous year.
The drop in work hours appears to reflect a decline in the time spent on patient care, to 51.7 hours in 1998 from 53.4 hours two years earlier. The average number of office visits per week was 105, down from 109.4 in 1996.
Time spent on hospital rounds decreased to 6.8 hours per week from 7.2 hours over the two years, coinciding with trends toward more outpatient procedures and the use of hospital-based physicians for inpatient care.