New Survey Highlights Primary Care Physicians’ Dissatisfaction, Problems Facing the Industry

December 3, 2008
Todd Kunkler

A survey released in November by the Physicians’ Foundation compiled responses from more than 12,000 US physicians, many of them primary care providers, with the goal of presenting a comprehensive snapshot of physicians’ opinions about the current state of the healthcare industry and the prospects for the future.

A survey released in November by the Physicians’ Foundation compiled responses from more than 12,000 US physicians, many of them primary care providers, with the goal of presenting a comprehensive snapshot of physicians’ opinions about the current state of the healthcare industry and the prospects for the future—to quote the executive summary of the report, “How do physicians across the country see the medical practice environment? How do they feel about the state of their profession, and that of the industry at large? What plans do they have for the future of their individual practices? Do they believe there are enough of them to handle an influx of more patients?”

Many of the survey’s findings should come as no surprise to physicians and others in the industry. Still, the numbers do paint a rather stark picture:

  • 78% of physicians believe there is currently a shortage of primary care doctors in the US.
  • Nearly half (49%!) of physicians plan to reduce the number of patients they see or stop practicing entirely over the next three years. Among this group, 11% plan to retire outright (a deceptively small number: the survey revealed that an astounding 45% of physicians would retire today if they had the financial means to do so), 13% plan to seek a job in a non-clinical healthcare setting, removing them from active patient care, and 20% will cut back on the number of patients they see.
  • 94% said the time they devote to non-clinical paperwork in the last three years has increased.
  • 63% reported that their paperwork burden has caused them to spend less time with their patients.
  • 82% of doctors said their practices would be “unsustainable” if proposed cuts to Medicare reimbursement were made. More than one-third (36%) of respondents said Medicare reimbursement does not cover their cost of providing care; nearly two-thirds of respondents (65%) said the same for Medicaid reimbursement.

60% of doctors would not recommend medicine as a career to young people.

These numbers and the extent of primary care physicians’ frustration, discontent, and worry they reveal matter greatly not just to members of that specialty, but to the healthcare system as whole. According to the report, “In the years ahead, the condition of America’s primary care doctors as a profession will greatly affect the viability of our nation’s healthcare system. A positive and functional system of practices and doctors will ensure a motivated workforce as well as encourage a new generation of quality physicians, while widespread physician disincentive could jeopardize the quality of our medical workforce as well as the number of physicians available to see patients.”

According to one survey respondent, “Something has got to be done, and urgently, to assist physicians, especially primary care physicians,” in order to ensure the long-term health of primary care and the entire medical profession, as well as to ensure “timely and effective access to the doctors on whom so many depend.”

The complete survey report and analysis can be downloaded here.