Of course, the report also shows that conventional wisdom is not completely wrong. There has been a trend toward hospital employment over the past five years. In 2012, 29% of physicians worked either directly for a hospital (5.6%) or for a practice that was at least partially owned by a hospital (23.4%). The last AMA survey taken in 2007–2008 did not distinguish between direct hospital employment and employment in a hospital-owned practice, but found that 16.3% of physicians worked in one of the two settings.
Phil Miller, vice president of communications at Merritt Hawkins, says the AMA findings are consistent with what the Irving, TX-based physician recruiting specialists find in their annual recruiting assignments.
"I was a little surprised to see they indicated that a little over 50% of physicians are still self employed. That contradicts a little some of the other things I have seen out there," he said. "In the great majority of settings that we are recruiting into it's an employed setting, mostly hospital employed. But it could be a community health center or a larger medical group, with the doctor coming in as an employee and not a practice owner."
Miller says that in 2004 only 11% of the physician search assignments Merritt Hawkins conducted were hospital employed physicians. This year, that figure went up to 64%.
"Of the physicians who are being recruited and newly hired by various entities, they are overwhelmingly going to employed settings. If a doctor is coming out of residency for example, the ones who are switching practice locations and are being recruited by people like us they are going into employed settings," Miller says.