AMA Claims Medics Add $1.6 Trillion to Economy, but...
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Wednesday, April 16, 2014 06:00 AM

U.S. physicians produced $1.6 trillion in direct and indirect economic activity in 2012 and supported an average of more than 13 jobs apiece, according to an economic impact analysis released Wednesday by the American Medical Association.

But some outside observers say the AMA's analysis -- meant to put a dollar figure on doctors' real-world impact -- may be making unrealistic assumptions and be based on unreliable information.

"The authors do not address this at all in the paper, and I wonder whether they have considered it at all," said Gaetano Forte, director of information management at the Center for Health Workforce Studies at the State University of New York at Albany.  "I worry that with all of the attempts to correct or adjust for the limitations of the data, the data are no longer robust.  Each manipulation of the data creates measurement error and eventually, after enough adjustment, the error will be so large that statistically meaningful differences cannot be observed."

On average, each physician supported nearly $2.2 million in economic output and supported more than $1 million in wages and benefits, according to the report, which was written by IMS Health in Alexandria, Va., and commissioned by the AMA. For the study, IMS used data from the AMA's master file, which accounts for more than 720,000 practicing physicians, and the 2012 Medical Group Management Association (MGMA) cost survey, which included the revenue, costs, and staffing of physician practices.

IMS combined the data to estimate physicians' impact on output, jobs, and wages.  But the analysis, while rather conventional, relies on unreliable data, Forte said.  For example, the AMA master file is notoriously out-of-date, Forte noted. Also, the MGMA data is biased toward large practices, and while the authors tried to adjust for smaller practices.