Survey of Physicians Holds Critical Implications for Patient Access/Health Reform

Physician Practice Patterns and Pay Structures, Patient Access, and More

Just as the United States is facing a growing physician shortage, physicians around the country are planning to change their practice patterns in ways that will reduce patient access to their services.

That is one implication of the major, biennial survey that Merritt Hawkins conducts on behalf of The Physicians Foundation that was released on September 21. With responses from over 17,200 physicians and over one million data points, the survey presents a “state of the union” of the medical profession that reveals key data of importance to healthcare leaders, policy makers, journalists and the public.

One primary finding of the survey is that close to half of physicians (48%) plan to retire, cut-back on the number of patients they see or hours they work, seek non-clinical, administrative jobs, work locum tenens, work part-time or take other steps likely to inhibit patient access to care. If even a fraction of this number follows through on these plans it will mean the reduction of tens of thousands of physician full-time-equivalents (FTEs) from the workforce. From a patient access and quality of care perspective, this is a development that both patients and healthcare providers can ill afford.

Why are so many physicians planning to alter the way they practice? The survey indicates physicians spend 21% of their time on non-clinical paperwork and that they are dispirited by third party intrusions into their practice autonomy. Sixty-three percent are pessimistic about the future of the medical profession, 54% describe their morale as negative and 49% often or always experience feelings of burn-out.

As a result, many doctors are seeking alternatives to traditional, full-time private practice, including employment by a hospital or medical group. Only 33% of physicians now identify as private practice owners, according to the survey, down from 49% in 2012, while 58% identify as employees, up from 44% in 2012.

The survey includes a wide range of additional information regarding physician hours worked, patients seen per day, rates of Medicare and Medicaid acceptance, and many other data points, with results broken out by physician age, gender, practice status and other aggregations. Results of the survey are also available by state. Selected data points from the survey are included in these infographics.

This survey is a tremendous resource for anyone interested in or concerned about patient access to healthcare, healthcare reform, or physician practice patterns. To receive a copy of the full survey report please click here. I would be happy to hear any thoughts or questions you might have about the survey’s findings and you can email me by clicking here.

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