The American Medical Association's annual compilation of doctors' economic information--including annual compensation--will not be published until late September this year and could be the last of its kind from the AMA.
The Chicago-based trade organization, representing almost 300,000 physicians, will no longer conduct its Socioeconomic Monitoring System survey, on which the numbers in the AMA publication Physician Socioeconomic Statistics are based.
The association cited a dramatic slowing of respondents and its ongoing budget woes as factors in the decision (See related story, p. 6).
Left unsaid is the fact that AMA leaders have become increasingly sensitive over the past few years to media coverage of their figures on what physicians in specific specialties earn on average in a given year.
"We will not collect a full data set for this year, but hope to do so in 2001," said James Rodgers, M.D., the AMA's vice president of health policy. Although Rodgers called it a pause in the effort and not an abandonment, it means there will be no AMA report on physicians' income and practice expenses in 2001. And because of problems gathering the data this year, the book being released in late 2000 will have figures from 1998, not 1999.
The choices, Rodgers said, were to have a smaller survey or to string it out long enough to get the right number of respondents. The survey sample has typically been about 4,000 self-employed and employed physicians.
Although other surveys have a large number of respondents, he said, only the AMA was able to maintain close to a 70% response rate since the project started in 1981. But two years ago, SMS began having difficulty getting surveys back and retaining its high rate of return.
Rodgers said part of the reason may be that doctors are saturated with an increasing number of such questionnaires. The more likely answer, he said, is that because more and more doctors are practicing in larger groups or becoming employees, they often don't have the relevant economic information on practice management.