Physician Pessimism Could Contribute to Shortage, Reduced Access to Care

Oct 3, 2012, 12:00 PM

In the next one to three years, more than half of the nation’s physicians plan to retire, cut back on the number of patients they see, work reduced hours or take other steps that would reduce patient access to care, a survey from The Physicians Foundation finds. According to A Survey of America’s Physicians, which polled more than 13,000 physicians, a continuation of this trend could mean the loss of 44,250 physicians from the workforce in the next four years.

The survey finds that physicians are seeing fewer patients per day than they did in 2008, and 26 percent of physicians have closed their practices to Medicaid patients. Fifty-two percent have already or are planning to limit Medicare patient access to their practices.

More than three-quarters (77.4 percent) of the physicians surveyed are somewhat or very pessimistic about the future of the medical profession, and more than 84 percent agree that “the medical profession is in decline.” However, younger physicians, female physicians, employed physicians (as compared to those who own practices) and primary care physicians are generally more positive about their profession.

“The survey was conducted in the context of one of the most transformative eras in the history of modern healthcare,” the introduction to the study notes. “Physicians are at the vortex of these changes... It is a challenging and uncertain time to be a doctor. The results of the survey reflect this uncertainty and should be taken in the context of current events. As the course of healthcare reform becomes clearer, attitudes and perspectives may change. However, we believe the survey reveals what doctors are thinking today and is relevant to healthcare professionals, policy makers, media members, and to anyone who has been seen by a physician or who will be.”

Read the survey.

This commentary originally appeared on the RWJF Human Capital Blog. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the authors.