Low morale among docs will drive many to flee the profession

Doc burnout

Just as millions of baby boomers will start to hit the Medicare rolls, the number of physicians available to treat them is expected to drop dramatically.

According to a new nationwide survey of 17,236 physicians conducted for The Physicians Foundation by recruiting firm Merritt Hawkins, nearly 50 percent of doctors intend to retire, reduce their hours or number of patients, or take on non-clinical roles in the coming years.

The cumulative result of these individual decisions means tens of thousands of physicians won’t be available to treat the growing number of seniors--at precisely the time when these patients need it most. Regulatory burdens are driving much of physicians’ behavior.

“Many physicians are dissatisfied with the current state of the medical practice environment and they are opting out of traditional patient care roles,” says Walker Ray, M.D., president of The Physicians Foundation, in a statement. “The implementation of evolving physician practice patterns for both patient access and the implementation of healthcare reform are profound.”

Some additional survey findings:

Overwhelmed with paperwork. Doctors are spending more than 20 percent of their time on non-clinical paperwork. And this is a source of frustration because only 14 percent of these same doctors report having the time they need to provide the highest standards of care.

Loss of autonomy. Seventy-two percent say third-party intrusions from payers and other entities take away from the quality of care they can provide as physicians.

Low morale and loss of enthusiasm for the profession. Sixty-three percent of doctors surveyed say they’re pessimistic about the future of the profession. And nearly half of those surveyed report suffering burnout on a regular basis and wouldn’t recommend a medical career to their children.

One possible way to stem the tide of physicians leaving the profession is to include their voices as the country goes about transforming healthcare, the survey suggests.