The physician shortage may be set to get worse, not better, regardless of how many new graduates medical schools send out into the world. Low satisfaction and changing practice styles are pointing to a physician exodus and more limited access for patients.
The physician shortage may be set to get worse, not better, regardless of how many new graduates medical schools send out into the world. Changing practice styles may limit patient access to physicians, according to a new survey.
Merritt Hawkins’ Survey of America’s Physicians: Practice Patterns and Perspectives revealed that physicians are working fewer hours, seeing fewer patients and limiting access to their practices. The research estimates 44,350 full-time-equivalent (FTE) physicians will be lost in the next four years if the current patterns continue.
Some of the changes that half of all physicians will implement over the next three years include cutting back on number of patients seen, working part-time hours, switching to concierge medicine, retiring or taking steps to reduce patient access.
Plus, the exodus from private practice will continue as 100,000 physicians transition to hospital employment. According to Merritt Hawkins’ research, this change over the next four years will mean 91 million fewer annual patient encounters.
According to Walker Ray, MD, vice president of The Physicians Foundation, which commissioned the study, the introduction of 30 million new patients as a result of the Affordable Care Act will have “profound implications.”
“These practice changes amount to a silent exodus of physicians from the workforce,” Ray said in a statement. “When these lost hours are added up, we get a much fuller and more ominous picture of the kind of access crisis that patients may soon face.”
The 13,575 practicing physicians in the survey showed low morale with 77% pessimistic about the future of medicine and 82% believing they have little ability to change the health care system. Close to 92% admitted they are unsure where the health system will be or how they will fit into it in three to five years from now.
The open-ended responses were particularly telling from “I’m getting out ASAP” to “It has turned from a noble profession into a business where physicians are traded” and “We are in the process of ruining the profession.”
There were some lone voices of optimism and pride among the respondents though, such as “It is still a very honorable profession that takes a lot of smarts, skills and patience to be truly good at, and it needs to be respected as such,” and “America has the best medicine in the world. Leave it to doctors and the patients. You will see wonderful results.”
However, it is clear that the vast majority of doctors are unhappy with the current state of the health care industry and they don’t have high hopes for the future.
“The level of pessimism among America’s physicians is very troubling,” Lou Goodman, PhD, president of The Physicians Foundation, said in a statement.