participants also overestimated their surgeons' annual salaries, Welton said. Some 22 percent of respondents estimated their surgeons earned between $500,000 and $750,000 annually. In fact, 68 percent of orthopedic spine surgeons earn less than $750,000, Welton and her colleagues point out.
According to a 2012 survey of doctors, orthopedic surgeons earned more than physicians in any other specialty, with a median compensation of $563,074.
"I believe the American public is correct to believe that orthopedic surgeons are overpaid, because they are," labor economist J. Paul Leigh told Reuters Health in an email.
In a 2010 study, Leigh says he showed that orthopedic surgeons earned roughly $2.2 million more in their lifetimes than family practice physicians, after controlling for varying length of residency years, work hours, gender, age and other salary predictors.
A professor at the Center for Healthcare Policy and Research at the University of California, Davis, Leigh was not involved in the current study.
Welton said the intent of her study was not to push for higher salaries for orthopedic surgeons but to shine light on the knowledge gaps.
"It's not to say we should be paid more," she said. "It's to say patients value what we do, and we don't as a population have a good idea of how our healthcare dollars are allocated."
"Most Americans value their personal physicians," Shortell said. "But the costs of healthcare in the U.S. are so high, and the outcomes are so low compared to other countries. The issue is we're not getting value for the money we're spending."