The Basics

Relative Value Units (RVUs)
January 12, 2015


Sally Coberly, PhD


This publication reviews Medicare's relative value units (RVUs), which are assigned to each physician service to represent the resources required to provide the service relative to all other physician services. Three types of resources are included: physician work, that is, the physician time and effort; practice expenses, such as clinical staff and equipment; and professional liability insurance. Each service's RVUs are multiplied by a common dollar conversion factor to determine the Medicare payment.

Related Materials

See also "Medicare Physician Fees: The Data Behind the Numbers" (Issue Brief No. 838, July 22, 2010), "Medicare Physician Payments and Spending" (Issue Brief No. 815, October 9, 2006), "Updating Medicare's Physician Fees: The Sustainable Growth Rate Methodology" (Issue Brief No. 818, November 10, 2006), and "Primary Care Physician Supply, Physician Compensation, and Medicare Fees: What Is the Connection?" (Issue Brief No. 827, November 3, 2008).

In addition, see "RVS Update Process" (American Medical Association/Specialty Society, 2006) and "Physician Services Payment System" (Medicare Payment Advisory Commission, paymentbasics, revised October 2008).

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