Pilot study comparing patients' valuation of health-care services with Medicare's relative value units

Steven J. Kravet, Heather Jones, Eric E. Howell, Scott M. Wright

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background and aims: Physician reimbursement for services and thus income are largely determined by the Medicare Resource-Based Relative Value Scale. Patients' assessment of the value of physician services has never been considered in the calculation. This study sought to compare patients' valuation of health-care services to Medicare's relative value unit (RVU) assessments and to discover patients' perceptions about the relative differences in incomes across physician specialties. Design: Cross-sectional survey. Participants and setting: Individuals in select outpatient waiting areas at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center. Methods: Data collection included the use of a visual analog 'value scale' wherein participants assigned value to 10 specific physician-dependent health-care services. Informants were also asked to estimate the annualized incomes of physicians in specialties related to the abovementioned services. Comparisons of (i) the 'patient valuation RVUs' with actual Medicare RVUs, and (ii) patients' estimations of physician income with actual income were explored using t-tests. Outcomes: Of the 206 eligible individuals, 186 (90%) agreed to participate. Participants assigned a significantly higher mean value to 7 of the 10 services compared with Medicare RVUs (P < 0.001) and the range in values assigned by participants was much smaller than Medicare's (a factor of 2 vs. 22). With the exception of primary care, respondents estimated that physicians earn significantly less than their actual income (all P < 0.001) and the differential across specialties was thought to be much smaller (estimate: $88 225, actual: $146 769). Conclusion: In this pilot study, patients' estimations of the value health-care services were markedly different from the Medicare RVU system. Mechanisms for incorporating patients' valuation of services rendered by physicians may be warranted.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)391-399
Number of pages9
JournalHealth Expectations
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 2008


  • Patient assessment
  • Physician income
  • RVU

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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