Pathology at a glance

Pathology at a glance

Central pay range: MGMA 25th and 75th percentiles (anatomic & clinical), 2001–$190,000 to $328,000. AMGA 20th and 80th percentiles, 2001–$179,000 to $267,000.

Pay direction: AMGA median income, $221,000 in 2001, rose about 5% in each of the last two years. As is true of radiologists, pathologists’ revenues are rising sharply because the numbers of studies done are rising rapidly as medical protocols involve more careful diagnoses and more tests for conditions that patients may have. Also, new technologies are making new tests available and permitting much faster review of many studies, especially those not involving close diagnostic judgments. Finally, the College of American Pathologists (CAP) has been perhaps more successful than any other national specialty medical society in convincing both CMS and Congress that Medicare’s Resource-Based Relative Value Scale, as originally implemented in 1998-99, would shortchange the field. Pathology RVU procedure values are on average about 20% higher than they would have been under CMS targets when the agency began phasing in RBRVS. CAP presented data showing that CMS had underestimated the practice costs of many pathology procedures.

Number (nationwide): Approximately 20,000.

New entrants per year: About 400.

What pathologists do/subspecialties: Examine tissues and body fluids for pathogens. Anatomic pathologists examine tissues and cells, such as from biopsies and Pap tests. Clinical pathologists examine fluids such as blood and plasma. Most groups and most pathologists do both kinds. Most individuals doing both kinds identify primarily as anatomic pathologists.

Common reimbursement methods: Discounted fee-for-service is overwhelmingly common. Apart from pay for procedures, other income includes supervision of labs and hospital departments (usually less than 10% of group’s total revenues), and profits from owned labs (can be large portion of earnings).

Common group structures: Pathologists generally work for physician-owned, single-specialty practices or hospitals. They are not commonly found in freestanding multispecialty practices.

Professional society: CAP, Northfield, Ill., (847) 832-7000, and Washington, D.C., (800) 392-9994,

Previous PCR item on pathology: Pay trends, factors and indicators in 2000, 8/23/00, p. 2.

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