Vascular Surgeons Are Not Adequately Valued by Traditional Productivity Metrics

Ann Vasc Surg. 2021 May;73:446-453. doi: 10.1016/j.avsg.2020.11.018. Epub 2020 Dec 24.


Background: Reimbursements for professional services performed by clinicians are under constant scrutiny. The value of a vascular surgeon's services as measured by work relative value units (wRVUs) and professional reimbursement has decreased for some of the most common procedures performed. Hospital reimbursements, however, often remain stable or increases. We sought to evaluate fistulagrams as a case study and hypothesized that while wRVUs and professional reimbursements decrease, hospital reimbursements for these services increased over the same time period.

Methods: Medicare 5% claims data were reviewed to identify all fistulagrams with or without angioplasty or stenting performed between 2015 and 2018 using current procedural terminology codes. Reimbursements were classified into 3 categories: medical center (reimbursements made to a hospital for a fistulagram performed as an outpatient procedure), professional (reimbursement for fistulagrams based on compensation for procedures: work RVUs, practice expense RVU, malpractice expense RVU), and office-based laboratory (OBL, reimbursement for fistulagrams performed in an OBL setting). Medicare's Physician Fee Schedule was used to calculate wRVU and professional reimbursement. Medicare's Hospital Outpatient Prospective Payment System-Ambulatory Payment Classification was used to calculate hospital outpatient reimbursement.

Results: From 2015 to 2018, we identified 1,326,993 fistulagrams. During this study period, vascular surgeons experienced a 25% increase in market share for diagnostic fistulagrams. Compared with 2015, total professional reimbursements from 2017 to 2018 for all fistulagram procedures decreased by 41% (-$10.3 million) while OBL reimbursement decreased 29% (-$42.5 million) and wRVU decreased 36%. During the same period, medical center reimbursement increased by 6.6% (+$14.1 million).

Conclusions: Vascular surgeons' contribution to a hospital may not be accurately reflected through traditional RVU metrics alone. Vascular surgeons performed an increasing volume of fistulagram procedures while experiencing marked reductions in wRVU and reimbursement. Medical centers, on the other hand, experienced an overall increase in reimbursement during the same time period. This study highlights that professional reimbursements, taken in isolation and without consideration of medical center reimbursement, undervalues the services and contributions provided by vascular surgeons.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Ambulatory Surgical Procedures / economics*
  • Ambulatory Surgical Procedures / trends
  • Angioplasty, Balloon / economics*
  • Angioplasty, Balloon / instrumentation
  • Angioplasty, Balloon / trends
  • Arteriovenous Shunt, Surgical / economics*
  • Current Procedural Terminology
  • Fee-for-Service Plans / economics*
  • Fee-for-Service Plans / trends
  • Health Facilities / economics*
  • Health Facilities / trends
  • Humans
  • Medicare / economics*
  • Medicare / trends
  • Relative Value Scales*
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Stents / economics
  • Surgeons / economics*
  • Surgeons / trends
  • United States
  • Workload / economics