Doctors nationwide are burnt out and unsatisfied. Many want to quit the profession entirely, according to a new survey from the Physicians Foundation.
The government deserves much of the blame for doctors’ low morale. For years, the feds have cut their pay, meddled in their decisions, and subjected them to mountains of needless paperwork. Physicians are increasingly responding by leaving active medical practice. And many of America’s best and brightest are declining to go into the field.
The statistics from the Physicians Foundation survey are alarming. Of the 8,700 doctors queried, fewer than half say they are satisfied with their jobs. By contrast, 79 percent of American workers give their jobs a thumbs-up.
This low level of job satisfaction among doctors is especially shocking since physicians have traditionally been some of the best-paid, most respected professionals in America.
More than three in four doctors feel burned out. Eighty percent are overworked and overextended, meaning they have little time to take on more patients. Nearly two-thirds are pessimistic about the future of the medical profession.
Given this angst, it’s no wonder that many doctors are exiting the field. Forty-six percent of those surveyed by the Physicians Foundation plan to change career paths. Seventeen percent say that they’re retiring, and 12 percent want to find a job where they don’t have to deal with patients. Almost half say they wouldn’t recommend medicine as a career to their children.
Early retirements will exacerbate the growing doctor shortage. Our nation will be short up to 121,300 doctors by 2030, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges. That’s up from last year’s projection of 104,900.
Meddlesome government regulations fuel this dissatisfaction and burnout.
Consider the Obama administration’s “electronic health records” mandate, which was included in the 2009 stimulus package. Doctors had to show “meaningful use” of digital medical records starting in 2014 or risk seeing their Medicare and Medicaid payments cut.
President Obama promised that forcing doctors to use EHRs would improve efficiency and reduce mistakes. But that hasn’t proven true.
Nearly 40 percent of doctors list EHR design as one of the two things they find least satisfying about their jobs. More than half say the requirement has made them less efficient. And 66 percent say it’s reduced the amount of time they spend with patients.
The EHR mandate didn’t cut spending, either. Half of doctors say EHRs increase costs, while fewer than one in ten say they save money.
Government is responsible for the other thing on doctors’ most-hated list — regulatory and insurance requirements. Thirty-eight percent listed such requirements as one of the two least satisfying things about their jobs.
In fact, the payments doctors receive from government programs sometimes don’t cover the cost of providing care to their beneficiaries. It’s no wonder that 15 percent of providers limit the number of Medicaid patients they’ll see. Sixteen percent don’t accept Medicaid at all.
Some physicians are cutting out the government by embracing a business model known as “Direct Primary Care.” It’s a throwback to the days when doctors treated patients, one on one, without regulators peering over their shoulder.
Patients pay a monthly fee, generally between $25 and $85, to receive unlimited primary care services. There’s no insurance to deal with, so doctors need fewer administrative staff. With lower overhead costs, doctors can see fewer patients and still make money. The typical physician in a direct care practice sees 600 patients, compared to a burnout-inducing 2,000 in a traditional practice.
Congress could spur the growth of direct primary care, and thus lessen the burden on doctors, by allowing patients to pay the monthly fee with tax-advantaged money from Health Savings Accounts. Patients are forbidden from doing so under current law.
Government overreach is driving doctors from the medical profession and exacerbating our nation’s already serious doctor shortage. And if progressive politicians successfully install Medicare for All in the United States, the shortage of doctors could grow worse still, as it has in other nations with single-payer healthcare systems, like Canada and the United Kingdom.
In order to ensure that patients have access to quality health care, government officials need to make life a little less onerous for the professionals who deliver it.