Through Physician Eyes: The Declining State of the Medical Profession

The Physician Foundation, a nonprofit organization that seeks to advance the work of practicing physicians, released the 2012 Survey of America’s Physicians which aggregated responses from over 13,000 physicians across various specialties, age groups, genders, ethnicities and geographic regions in the U.S. The results were truly staggering. The survey revealed that 84% of physicians agree that the medical profession is in decline, and many physicians are either making drastic changes to their practices, or preparing to pack their bags and leave the profession for good.

Declining Professional Satisfaction and Morale

Nearly 45% of physicians felt somewhat pessimistic about the current state of the medical profession and approximately 46% felt the same way about its future. Approximately 56% indicated that morale in general toward the profession was negative, and 41% rated their own personal morale and attitude negatively. Many of them (79.2%) felt that their declining morale and outlook on the profession was due to too much paperwork and regulation, loss of autonomy (64.5%), lack of appropriate compensation (58.6%) and erosion of the physician/patient relationship (54.4%).

The majority of physicians (approximately 58%) would not even recommend medicine as a career to their children or other young people. Over one-third of physicians would not choose medicine if they had to do it all over again.

Negative Perspectives on Healthcare System Trends

Over 59% of physicians indicated that they felt less positive about the future of healthcare in the wake of the passage of the Affordable Care Act. Nearly 92% of physicians were unsure of how they will fit into the new healthcare system in three to five years. And half believe that they have little influence on the direction of the healthcare system.

Slowing Practice Patterns

The study also showed that physicians are working fewer hours. The majority of physicians (79.3%) work 41 hours a week or more, while the remaining 20.7% work 40 hours a week or less. This represents an increase in the number of physicians working part-time schedules compared to 2008 (18.4%).

Physicians are also seeing fewer patients per day according to the study. Over 59% of physicians in 2012 said they see 20 patients or fewer per day, down from 23.43 in 2008.

Income cut-back is another big problem. Nearly 50% of physicians said that their incomes have been declining over the past three years, and 62% have indicated that they provide $25,000 in uncompensated care. Physicians indicated that they plan to cut back on hours (22%), retire (13.4%), relocate to another practice or community (10.9%), seek another non-clinical job within healthcare (9.9%), or cut back on patients seen (9.6%). Approximately 35.3% of physicians had to close their practices to Medicare and Medicaid patients because of time and cost constraints, up from 24% in 2008. The study concluded that continuing cuts to reimbursement may contribute to the decline of incomes and medical practices.

Conclusion

Physicians believe the current state of the healthcare system has failed them and their patients, and they all attribute that failure to a common reason—too much regulation. Increasing government regulation and insurance overhead has made it difficult for them to spend time with their patients, decreased compensation and autonomy and created a shortage of physicians in practice. Physicians agree that by removing the red tape the state of healthcare would get better, but until then the medical profession, the physician/patient relationship and healthcare access will continue to suffer.

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