Time is Money: Relative Value Units and Operative Time in Otolaryngology

Gregory L. Barinsky, David W. Wassef, Roman Povolotskiy, Jordon G. Grube, Wayne D. Hsueh, Soly Baredes, Jean Anderson Eloy

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


Objectives: Physician compensation for procedures is typically rooted in the work relative value unit (wRVU) system. Operative time is one of the factors that goes into the determination of wRVU assignment. There should be consistency between the wRVU/hr rate, irrespective of average operative time required to perform certain procedures. We investigate if wRVU assignment for otolaryngology procedures adequately accounts for increased operative time. Study Design: Retrospective analysis of a surgical database. Methods: NSQIP was queried from 2015–2018 for the top 50 most frequently performed otolaryngology Current Procedural Terminology (CPT) codes completed as standalone procedures. Median operative time was determined for each CPT code, and wRVU/hr was calculated. Correlations between operative time, wRVU, and wRVU/hr were investigated using linear regression analysis. A secondary analysis using complication rate as an indicator for procedure complexity was performed to examine the relation between wRVUs and complication rates. Results: Fifty CPT codes containing 64,084 patients where only one code was reported were included in this analysis. The median operative time was 84 minutes, median wRVU was 11.23, and median wRVU/hour was 7.96. Linear regression analysis demonstrated a strong positive correlation between operative time and wRVU assignment (R2 = 0.805, P <.001). Further analysis found no correlation between operative time and wRVU/hr (R2 = 0.008, P =.525). Linear regression of wRVU/hr and complication rate showed a statistically significant positive correlation (R2 = 0.113, P =.017). Conclusion: This analysis suggests that compensation for otolaryngology procedures is positively correlated with operative time. Surgeries where more than one code is reported could not be evaluated, thus excluding some common combination of procedures performed by otolaryngologists. Level of Evidence: 4 Laryngoscope, 131:E395–E400, 2021.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)E395-E400
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2021

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Otorhinolaryngology


  • Relative value unit
  • billing
  • operative time
  • otolaryngology
  • otolaryngology compensation
  • physician compensation
  • procedure complexity
  • reimbursement
  • wRVU


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