Industry Pulse: Docs feeling the stress of today’s environment

U.S. physicians are struggling with morale, adapting to new models and access to care.

While it might be a lucrative profession, being a doctor isn’t all that easy or stress-free these days, according to the people who would know best: doctors themselves.

According to the 2016 Survey of America’s Physicians by Dallas-based Merritt Hawkins, a physician search and consulting firm, for the Physicians Foundation, a not-for-profit grant-making organization, the nation’s doctors are struggling to maintain morale levels, adapt to changing delivery and payment models, and provide patients with reasonable access to care.

A total of 17,236 doctors responded to the survey, a response rate of 2.8 percent of nearly every physician in the United States. The polling firm contacted all of the doctors with email addresses on file with the American Medical Association’s Physician Master File, the largest database of the country’s 800,000 or physicians.

One of the biggest problems facing doctors is that they feel bogged down by paperwork. Physicians said they spend about 21 percent of their time on non-clinical paperwork, the equivalent of 168,000 physician FTEs (full-time equivalents) not engaged in clinical activities. Of those who responded, only 14 percent said they feel they have the time they need to provide the “highest standards of care.”

A change in attitude among physicians as well as all of the regulations placed upon them has certainly contributed to a reduction in solo practitioners, as 17 percent of those who responded are in solo practice, down from 25 percent in 2012.

A lack of time to properly care for patients seems to be an overriding theme among doctors, as 80 percent report that they are overextended or at capacity, with no time to see additional patients. On top of that, 72 percent say that external factors such as third-party authorizations significantly detract from the quality of care they are able to provide.

For the most part, doctors still desire to provide quality, personal service, as 71 percent describe “patient relationships” as the most satisfying aspect of medical practice, while 58 percent say “regulatory/paperwork burdens” is the least satisfying. Along that line, only 11 percent of physicians say electronic health records (EHRs) have improved patient interaction, while 60 percent say EHRs have detracted from patient interaction.

Here are some other key findings from physicians:
■ 44 percent believe the hospital employment of doctors is a positive trend.
■ Employed physicians see 19 percent fewer patients than practice owners
■ 54 percent rate their morale as somewhat or very negative.
■ 37 percent describe their feelings about the future of the profession as positive.
■ 49 percent often or always experience feelings of burn-out.
■ 49 percent would not recommend medicine as a career to their children.

For more information, please visit: MerrittHawkins.com.

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