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Physician morale continues to decline, with 80% of physicians feeling overextended

September 26, 2016
Area(s) of Interest: Physician Wellness Physician Workforce 


U.S. physicians continue to struggle to maintain professional satisfaction levels as they are forced to adapt to changing delivery and payment models, according to a Physicians Foundation survey of 17,000 U.S. physicians.


The 2016 Survey of America’s Physicians: Practice Patterns and Perspectives found that 80 percent of physicians report being overextended or at capacity, with no time to see additional patients. Not surprisingly, 54 percent of physicians surveyed rate their morale as somewhat or very negative, with 49 percent saying they are either often or always feeling burnt out.


Physicians identified regulatory and paperwork burdens and loss of clinical autonomy as their primary sources of dissatisfaction. Respondents indicated that they spend 21 percent of their time on non-clinical paperwork duties, while 72 percent said third-party intrusions detract from the quality of care they can provide.


Forty-eight percent of surveyed physicians plan to cut back on hours, retire, take a non-clinical job, switch to “concierge” medicine or take other steps that would further limit patient access to care. These patterns are likely to reduce the physician workforce by tens of thousands of full-time equivalents at the time that a growing, aging and more widely insured population is increasing overall demand for physicians.


“Many physicians are dissatisfied with the current state of medical practice and are starting to opt out of traditional patient care roles,” said Walker Ray, M.D., president of the Physicians Foundation and chair of its research committee. “By retiring, taking non-clinical roles or cutting back in various other ways, physicians are essentially voting with their feet and leaving the clinical workforce. This trend is to the detriment of patient access. It is imperative that all health care stakeholders recognize and begin to address these issues more proactively, to support physicians and enhance the medical practice environment.”


This survey, conducted biennially since 2008, has consistently demonstrated that the professional morale of physicians is declining. Physicians have also consistently indicated that their primary source of professional satisfaction is the patient-physician relationship. In the 2016 survey, 73.8 percent of respondents list this as the most satisfying aspect of their jobs, followed by “intellectual stimulation” at 58.7 percent. Physicians note that issues such as a lack of clinical autonomy, liability concerns, struggle for reimbursement and decreased patient face-time can all negatively impact the patient-physician relationship – thereby undermining physician satisfaction.


Recognizing that it is the responsibility of the medical community to identify risk factors for and appropriately respond to signs of physician burnout, the California Medical Association has identified the topic as one of six major issues to be discussed at this year's annual House of Delegates, which convenes in Sacramento October 15-16. The delegates will explore strategies and develop policies aimed at preserving the physical and mental well-being of physicians.


Reports on physician burnout and other major issues before the 2016 House of Delegates are now available for download and comment through October 7. All members are welcome to submit comments online at Resolutions.


For more details on the Physicians Foundation survey, visit www.physiciansfoundation.org.

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