7 numbers making orthopedic surgeons nervous


Orthopedic surgeons had a tough year in 2020, with many elective procedures canceled or postponed, leaving some to speculate that case volume may never recover.

At the same time, the number of people needing total knee replacements in the U.S. likely will increase as the Baby Boomer population ages and people aim to stay active longer.

Seven numbers reflecting challenges ahead for orthopedic surgeons:

1. Orthopedic surgeon pay is flat: The average annual pay for orthopedic surgeons is $511,000, the same as in 2020, according to Medscape. Orthopedists also fell from the No. 1 most highly compensated specialty in the report, with plastic surgeons reporting the highest average pay at $236,000.

2. Incentive bonus: 16 percent of orthopedic surgeons earn less than 1 percent of their annual incentive bonus, according to Medscape.

3. Orthopedic income levels: 12 percent of orthopedic surgeons said they don't anticipate ever returning to pre-COVID-19 income levels, which dropped during the pandemic. Nearly half do anticipate returning to pre-COVID-19 income levels in two to five years, according to Medscape.

4. Physician employment: 70 percent of physicians are employed by hospitals or corporations, according to Avalere. While many orthopedic surgeons are independent, their referral networks in many regions are disappearing as hospitals purchase primary care physician groups.

5. Patient volume drop: 45 percent of independent orthopedic surgeons think their patient volume drop of up to 25 percent is permanent, according to Medscape.

6. Total knee replacement jump: From 2018 to 2030, the number of total knee replacements is expected to increase 673 percent to 3.5 million procedures, according to the American Association of Hip and Knee Surgeons. Without a dramatic increase in surgeons performing total joints, or without a change in potential treatments, patients may experience barriers to care in the next decade.

7. Orthopedic surgeon shortage: By 2025, the Health Resources and Services Administration predicted the U.S. will be short 5,080 orthopedic surgeons, according to a Merritt Hawkins report. Around 60 percent of orthopedic surgeons were 55 years or older in 2018, potentially preparing for retirement in the next 15 years.

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