Survey shows doctors' frustrations with the business of running a medical practice

For some doctors, the future of medicine isn't so bright. An increased focus on business and bureaucracy has 59 percent of physicians predicting that the quality of medicine will suffer over the next five years, according to an online "Physician Sentiment Index," conducted by athenahealth and online physician community Sermo.

In particular, dealing with insurance companies appeared to be a burdensome ordeal, with 77 percent of respondents agreeing that they spent too much time with payors and not enough time with patients. Sixteen percent said that rather than basing treatments on what's best for a patient, they instead defer to what payors will cover. 

A good portion of doctors are similarly frustrated with the business aspects of running a practice. Thirty-four percent think their financial situations will be worse next year compared to this year, while 82 percent said they have trouble hiring and retaining qualified staff members. 

"There's a real conflict happening between the exam room and the front desk at many physician practices across the country," said Dr. Daniel Palestrant, CEO of Sermo. "We're seeing this cottage industry of five to 10 group physician practices go out of business because they are focused on patient care and not focused enough on their business. These are MDs, not MBAs, and here they are on the front lines dealing with the burden of balancing patient interaction with reimbursement complexities and managing a practice."

Perhaps not surprisingly, given recent backlash against President Obama's health reform law, respondents did not view government intervention favorably. Fifty-four percent felt that increased regulation will not improve the quality of medicine. And while electronic health records are generally viewed in a positive manner, 54 percent of doctors feel that EHRs slow them down during patient exams; 60 percent believe that EHRs distract from in-person patient interactions. 

"Physicians want to focus on being the best doctors they can be, but there are all these things getting in the way," said Jonathan Bush, CEO of athenahealth. "You've got stimulus dollars encouraging them to abandon a pen and paper system for electronic health records that are yet unproven...and health reform that will expand overly stressed state Medicaid programs--it's no wonder the sentiment is pretty bleak." 

To learn more:
- read this athenahealth press release
- here's the Physician Sentiment Index