Negative opinions about the state of medicine has large numbers of physicians planning to change their practices in ways that would decrease access to patients, according to a new study by The Physicians Foundation and Merritt Hawkins.
Almost half of the more than 17,000 physicians surveyed this spring said they planned over the next one to three years to cut back on hours worked, retire, take a non-clinical health care position, switch to a cash-only practice, or take other steps that would ultimate reduce access to patients.
"(The survey) reveals a physician workforce that continues to be dispirited about the current state of the medical profession and apprehensive about its future, due primarily to the large regulatory burden physicians face and the perceived erosion of their clinical autonomy," the researchers said in the report.
Overall, only 52 percent of physicians said they planned to remain working at the same level they are now. That represents a decline from 2014 when 56 percent of physicians surveyed said they didn't plan to change their practice.
The reasons for the negative changes are widespread. Almost 63 percent of respondents said they felt either "very" or "somewhat" pessimistic about the future of medicine, which was an increase from 51.1 percent in 2014. Eighty-one percent of physicians said they were overextended or at full capacity and unable to see more patients.
That said, many physicians aren't ready to abandon medicine entirely. Almost 72 percent of respondents said they would choose medicine as a career again, compared with 71 percent in 2014 and 67 percent in 2012. When asked if they would still recommend medicine as a career to their children or other young people, 51 percent said they would, up slightly from 50 percent in 2014.
Primary care physicians were a little more optimistic than their specialist peers, with 50.5 percent saying they are very or somewhat positive about the current state of medicine and 42.5 percent positive about the future of medicine. By comparison, 43.5 percent of specialists were positive about the present and 33.9 percent were positive about the future of medicine. Almost 73 percent of primary care physicians said they would choose medicine again as a career, compared with 71.4 percent of specialists, and 54 percent of primary care physicians said they would recommend medicine as a career to young people, compared with 50 percent of specialists.
The demographics of those responding to the survey showed the continuing trend of physicians leaving private practice for employed positions. Almost 33 percent characterized themselves as practice owners while about 58 percent said they worked for a hospital or large medical group. By comparison, 35 percent identified as practice owners in 2014 and 53 percent worked for large health groups and hospitals.
Looking at specific pieces of health care reform, only 43 percent said they were paid based on quality or value and 80 percent professed little knowledge of the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act (MACRA). Only 11 percent of respondents said electronic health records have improve their interactions with patients, and only between 5 percent and 6 percent said the year-old ICD-10 coding has improved efficiency and revenues.
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