9 Ways to Make More Money as a Primary Care Physician

According to the 2019 Medscape Physician Compensation Report, the three lowest paid physician specialties are as follows:

  • Pediatrics ($225,000 per year)
  • Family medicine ($231,000 per year)
  • Public health and preventive medicine ($209,000)
Ways to Make More Money as a Primary Care Physician

(Pixabay / fernandozhiminaicela)

If you’re trying to get ahead financially as a primary care physician, you might find yourself feeling frustrated. Your days are probably long, you are having to diagnose, treat and bill for a broad spectrum of maladies, and, if you own your own practice, you are responsible for a whole passel of management headaches.

On tough days, you might find yourself looking wistfully at cardiologists, who earn an average of $423,000 per year, or radiologists, who earn $401,000 per year. Fortunately, though, you don’t have to be stuck at the “average earning rate” for primary care physicians—especially if you own your own practice. There are a number of ways to increase your practice earnings, and we’d like to explore some of them in this blog.

  1. Establish a late/no-show policy. If you have a loosey-goosey attendance policy for patients, you could sabotage your schedule and your earnings. According to CareCloud.com, two missed copays per day can cost your practice nearly $60,000 per year—and that doesn’t include the manpower wrapped up in scheduling and rescheduling that appointment. Few things are more frustrating than waiting around for late patients when your day is packed tight. Your other patients will feel the burn, too, if they have to wait longer while you try to work in patients who show up outside of their appointment time. Invest in an automated system to remind patients about their appointments, and make sure that every patient understands your attendance policy. Some doctors take a credit card number at the time of booking so that they can charge the card automatically for no-shows. Whatever you decide on, communicate well with patients beforehand and be consistent in enforcement. Many doctors find that just the threat of a patient being charged is enough to help attendance rates.
  2. Use your staff efficiently. Is a nurse in your practice doing something that a medical assistant can handle? Are you doing something that a nurse could manage well? Use staff members to their full capacity. Your staff will feel more empowered, and you can maximize your payroll spend.
  3. Stay on schedule. Establish a time template for yourself—perhaps 15 minutes for follow-ups and 30 minutes for new patients and annual wellness visits. If patients come in with long laundry lists of problems, welcome them to schedule another appointment so that you can give their additional concerns your full attention. Tact is key here. Don’t be that guy (or gal) who keeps their hand on the doorknob the whole visit! Still, there are ways to maintain a good bedside manner by setting clear boundaries for your schedule.
  4. Bill better. Coding is everything, so take time to get good at it. There’s nothing to be gained by coding something as a level II when it is really a level III or IV. You deserve to be paid for the services you have rendered. Some doctors are so afraid of over-coding that they shortchange themselves. Hold 10 minute coding inservices as part of staff meetings, learn from insurance company denials, conduct voluntary audits, and have a coding specialist shadow and mentor you. All of these steps can help you bill better and earn more.
  5. Collect copays at every visit. It is reasonable to expect payment at the time of service—just as you would expect payment at a restaurant or store. Some doctors keep a credit card on file so they can easily collect copays at the time of the visit. Others collect the copay at check-in. Still others tack on a $5 fee if they have to bill for a copay.
  6. Maximize the seasons. Summer can be a drag with people out of town and (typically) fewer people affected by viruses and colds. Use email campaigns to hype wellness visits and back-to-school or sports physicals to keep typically slow months productive and profitable.
  7. Expand your services. Offering new services can unlock powerful revenue streams. Whether it be lab services, physical therapy, occupational therapy, med spa services, or a turnkey allergy treatment program, you can meet more of your patients’ needs and increase profits. Chances are, your patients would rather receive treatment in the familiarity of your practice for different services than travel to an unknown office. Case in point: a Medscape Business Magazine study showed that more than 65% of patients said they would prefer allergy treatment from their primary care doctor than from an outside allergist.
  8. Evaluate insurance contracts carefully. Many insurance contracts will auto-renew if you don’t request changes, but there’s a lot to be gained by vetting them carefully and negotiating for changes. Just make sure you come to the table prepared. Find ways to quantify your gains throughout the year. This may include tracking positive clinical outcomes from different services that you offer, collecting positive patient reviews, or demonstrating how you are the only one in your area to offer a certain service. This kind of information can serve as leverage to help you negotiate for more.
  9. Boost your online presence. Pew Research Center shows that more than 70% of people consult the internet for healthcare information. If you can’t be found on the internet, you’re going to have a much harder time attracting new patients. Establish a website, hire a good search engine optimization firm to boost your rankings, and keep your website fresh and relevant with informative blogs.

About The Author

Stuart H. Agren, M.D.

Stuart H. Agren, M.D. completed his undergraduate studies at the University of Utah and went on to earn his Doctor of Medicine from Tulane University School of Medicine in 1974. He completed additional training at L.D.S. Hospital in Salt Lake City, Utah and then established his private medical practice starting in 1975. Dr. Agren completed a mini-residency in Industrial Medicine at the Robert Johnson School of Medicine at Rutgers University and also completed training to become a certified Medical Review Officer.

Dr. Agren was the Medical Director at TRW and McDonnell Douglas in Mesa, Arizona and at Stauffer Chemical and Kennecott Copper in Salt Lake City, Utah. He also served as an adjunct faculty member at Arizona State University.

In his private medical practice, Dr. Agren specialized in family practice and allergy. In his work as a private practice allergist, he was one of the first doctors in the country to prescribe sublingual immunotherapy to his patients as an alternative to subcutaneous immunotherapy (allergy shots). He has also been a trailblazer in the field of food allergy treatment and research, developing a program to treat multiple food allergies simultaneously using sublingual immunotherapy. Dr. Agren has been featured on local CBS, NBC, and ABC news affiliates and won the peer-nominated “Top Doc” award from Phoenix Magazine.

After 20 years in private practice, Dr. Agren became the Founder and President of AllergyEasy, which helps primary care physicians around the country offer allergy testing and sublingual immunotherapy treatment to their patients. Over 200 physicians in over 32 states use the AllergyEasy program to help their patients overcome environmental and food allergies and asthma.