Survey: Most Physicians Downbeat About Future of Medicine

Doctors dissatisfied with regulatory/paperwork burdens

This article updates and corrects a report that was posted on September 22.

About half of physicians have low morale and plan to retire, cut back on work hours, or seek nonclinical roles, according to a national survey commissioned by The Physicians Foundation, a nonprofit organization.

Between April and mid-June 2016, emails were sent to approximately 630,000 physicians actively involved in patient care in the United States. The survey included 39 questions, with multiple responses possible on some questions. A total of 17,236 physicians responded.

When asked about the current state of the medical profession, more than half of the physicians (54%) described their feelings as somewhat or very negative. Most of the respondents were also downbeat about the future of the medical profession, with 63% describing themselves as “somewhat negative/pessimistic” or “very negative/pessimistic.”

Among physicians 45 years of age or younger, 43% characterized their morale as somewhat or very negative. In contrast, 60% of older physicians (ages 46 years or more) rated their morale as somewhat or very negative. Feelings of professional burnout were also more common in older physicians than in younger ones (51% vs. 44%, respectively).

The factor cited most often by respondents as being least satisfying was “regulatory/paperwork burdens” (58%) followed by “erosion of clinical autonomy” (32%).

Although paperwork and bureaucracy are present in many working environments, medicine is one of the most highly regulated of all professions, according to summary remarks accompanying the survey. As a recent example, the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act (MACRA), the new law revamping Medicare payments to physicians, is 932 pages long.

Other key survey findings include:

  • Physicians spend 21% of their time on nonclinical paperwork.
  • Only 14% of physicians have the time they need to provide the highest standards of care.
  • 80% of physicians are overextended or at capacity, with no time to see additional patients.
  • 72% indicated that external factors, such as third-party authorizations, significantly detracted from the quality of care they are able to provide.
  • 27% of physicians do not see Medicare patients, or limit the number they see.
  • 48% plan to cut back on hours, retire, take a nonclinical job, switch to “concierge” medicine, or take other steps limiting patient access to their practices.
  • Only 11% of physicians said electronic health records (EHRs) have improved patient interaction, whereas 60% say EHRs have detracted from patient interaction.
  • 55% of physicians participate in the Physician Quality Reporting System (PQRS), and 36% participate in an accountable care organization (ACO).

Source: Physicians Foundation Survey; September 2016.