Eighty-one percent of physicians feel they are at the limits of their practice, according to the most recent Physicians Foundation Study. Of the 20,088 physicians surveyed, only 19 percent stated they had the time to take on new patients, while over 72 percent believe that additional physicians should be trained to help alleviate the ongoing physician shortage.
A shortage crisis that will only worsen in the coming years due to the expansion of medical insurance coverage under the Affordable Care Act, an aging and growing population, and changes in physician practice styles. In fact, one in three practicing physicians in the United States is over the age of 55 years, and there is an increasing focus on achieving work-life balance in the practice of medicine than ever before. Forty-four percent of physicians have plans to take steps to alleviate their workload, such as retiring, working part-time, or seeking non-clinical jobs, further reducing patient access to services.
As the healthcare delivery model continues to evolve, new methods of care and practice styles are being developed, including employment by hospitals and other entities, part-time practice, inpatient only practice, locum tenens, concierge, and others. Such recent trends, which allow for more work-life balance and increased patient interaction, may have contributed to a more optimistic view of the medical profession than that found in the 2012 Physicians Foundation Survey; however, these trends will result in the loss of tens of thousands of FTE physicians from the workforce and adding to the physician shortage. Despite these changes, a majority of physicians surveyed remain pessimistic about the future of the medical profession, and half of all doctors would not recommend the medical profession as a path to younger generations.
“Things are changing that rapidly,” says Joseph Valenti, MD, a member of The Physician Foundation board.
“We are seeing a lot more people wanting to go to an employed situation because they are so pessimistic about private practice.” One of the most effective ways to counteract pessimism in the medical field is to refocus attention on the physician-patient relationship. Physicians rated patient relationships as the most satisfying element of medical practice. As most physicians enter into medial practice to provide care to patients, when the quality of the patient relationship declines, be it through administrative burdens, liability concerns, or a loss of clinical autonomy, physicians become demoralized and experience burnout.
“The biggest thing that physicians are concerned about is their ability to spend time with their patients. Eighty percent of them will still say the most important thing is their relationship with the patients,” says Valenti. Re-imagining the healthcare practice to provide a more controllable work-life balance can prevent burnout and keep physicians from retiring or leaving practice early. Locum tenens placements offer a number of benefits that can help reduce the professional hassles that contribute to a pessimistic view of medicine. Providers have the ability to choose when and where they want to practice and are not burdened with the administrative responsibilities that come with private practice. This allows physicians adequately devote time to caring for patients.
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