While physicians are the primary providers of medical care at the nation's hospitals, a recent survey suggests that they are also key drivers of hospital revenue. According to physician search firm Merritt Hawkins, a single physician generates an average of $1.5 million a year in net revenue on behalf of his or her affiliated hospital.

Hospital CFOs were asked to quantify how much revenue physicians in 17 specialties generated for their hospitals in the last 12 months. This included both net inpatient and outpatient revenue derived from patient referrals, tests and procedures performed in the hospital.

Survey data revealed that neurosurgeons topped the list of specialists by generating an average of $2.8 million a year for his or her affiliated hospital. Other high revenue generating specialists include invasive cardiologists ($2.2 million a year), orthopedic surgeons ($2.1 million a year), general surgeons ($2.1 million a year) and hematologists/oncologists ($1.5 million a year).

Primary care physicians also generate substantial revenue, according to survey data. A general internist generates nearly $1.7 million a year, a family physician generates $1.6 million a year and a pediatrician generates $856,124 a year.

In 2007, the average annual revenue generated per physician across all specialties was nearly $1.5 million. Merritt Hawkins President Mark Smith noted that since average revenue increased even during a recession, it suggests that physicians continue to provide a high level of hospital-based services.