Most physician payment rates fall within a reasonable market range. But in some cases, a payment rate may be well beyond the norm. These unusual payment rates, which can sometimes impact benchmark calculations, are outliers. Understanding how outliers affect market data and what to do if your contract falls outside market ranges is an important aspect of a physician contracting compliance program.
Evaluating Data Quality
The distribution of payment rates can reveal market trends or anomalies. If the distribution between benchmark quantiles is fairly concentrated, this could suggest that rates are consistent across markets and facility types. Even if quantile ranges are narrow, it doesn’t necessarily mean that there aren’t meaningful outliers within the sample; however these outliers are not affecting the benchmark values. Good examples are medical directorship hourly rates. If the majority of hourly rates of a cardiology medical directorship are $150 per hour, but there are several facilities that pay $250 per hour, the facilities that are paying more may be paying fair market value for the duties being performed, but they do not affect the benchmark values because they are accounting for the values above the 90th percentile.
If there is a wide distribution of rates, it could indicate several things. If the sample size isn’t large and the rates are widely distributed, it could indicate inadequate data. It could also represent contracts that are not comparable, either because scope of services varies or hospital characteristics are too different (e.g. rural versus trauma or academic medical center). If the sample size is adequate, variation could indicate real differences between individual circumstances or types of organizations.
Even within a large sample size, contracts over the 90th percentile sometimes represent special circumstances that justify higher pay rates. Examples might include highly specialized or nationally recognized physicians, a broader scope of service, and/or higher hours due to program start-ups etc. Most FMV experts consider payment rates under the 75th percentile to be reasonable, assuming adequate justification of the position and time spent. However, payment rates over that level are not by definition inappropriate, they just require particular documentation of the reasons why a higher payment is justified.