Survey Gauges Physician Dissatisfaction

Physicians are working fewer hours, seeing fewer patients, and limiting access to their practices in light of significant changes to the medical practice environment, according to a comprehensive new survey of practicing physicians by The Physicians Foundation.

Among the key findings of one of the largest physician surveys ever undertaken in the United States are:

  • More than 60 percent of physicians would retire today if they had the means. 
  • Physicians see 16.6 percent fewer patients per day than they did in 2008, a decline that could lead to millions of fewer patients seen per year. 
  • More than 52 percent limit Medicare patients' access to their practices or plan to do so. 
  • More than 26 percent have closed their practices to Medicaid patients. 
  • Physicians spend more than 22 percent of their time on nonclinical paperwork, resulting in a loss of some 165,000 full-time equivalent (FTE) physicians. 

The survey also found that over the next one to three years, more than 50 percent of physicians will cut back on patients seen, work part-time, switch to concierge medicine, retire, or take other steps likely to reduce patient access.  

 Texas physicians' responses to some of the key Physicians Foundation survey questions were generally along the same lines as their colleagues across the country.  

Forty-five percent of Texas doctors described their feelings about the current state of the medical profession as somewhat negative, compared with 44.8 percent of physicians nationally. Sixty-seven percent of Texans said they would retire if they could, compared with 61 percent nationally. Thirty percent of Texas physicians plan to place new or additional limits on accepting Medicaid patients, compared with 22.2 percent nationally. The numbers for limiting acceptance of new Medicare patients were similar.     

"It is clear that the introduction of nearly 30 million new patients into the U.S. health care system through health care reform, added to the already growing physician shortage, will have profound implications for patient access to medical care," said Walker Ray, MD, vice president of the foundation and chair of its Research Committee. "The rate of private practice physicians leaving the medical field, as well as changes in practice patterns that reduce the number of hours spent seeing and treating patients, is alarming. 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 Physicians Foundation Board of Directors will share the survey results with political leaders, policymakers, and the news media nationwide. 

The survey, fielded online from late March to early June 2012 by Irving-based Merritt Hawkins for The Physicians Foundation, is based on responses from 13,575 physicians across the country.  

Created by settlement of organized medicine's landmark antiracketeering lawsuit against America's largest for-profit HMOs, The Physicians Foundation is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization that seeks to advance the work of practicing physicians and help facilitate health care delivery to patients. The foundation's activities include grantmaking, research, and policy studies. The foundation provides grants to nonprofit organizations, universities, hospital systems, and medical society foundations that support its mission and, since 2005, has awarded numerous multiyear grants totaling more than $28 million.  

Louis J. Goodman, PhD, TMA's executive vice president and chief executive officer, is the president of the foundation.  

 Action, Oct. 1, 2012