Dr. Feelgood has left the building

By Emmet Pierce Posted : 10/09/2012

doctors unhappy with health care industryRecent federal health care reform may be giving underserved patients something to be hopeful about, but it's also giving many doctors a bad case of the blues.

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The nonprofit Physician's Foundation recently released "A Survey of America's Physicians: Practice Patterns and Perspectives." The report paints a stressed-out portrait of what it is like to be a doctor in an era of health care and insurance reform. A key concern for physicians is how the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) is changing how you pay for health care and how that care is provided.

The stated goal of the survey was to provide "a snapshot of what physicians are thinking in the year 2012: about the practice of medicine, about their career plans, and about the current state of the healthcare system." There were 13,575 physician responses.

The foundation says those responses "reflect a high level of disillusionment among doctors regarding the medical practice environment and the current state of the healthcare system."

Key findings: doctors on health care industry

Here are some of the survey's key findings:

  • More than three quarters of physicians are "somewhat pessimistic" or "very pessimistic" about the future of the medical profession.
  • More than 59 percent of physicians indicate passage of the PPACA has made them less positive about the future of health care in America. (See: "Health reform sticks: Now what?")
  • More than 82 percent believe doctors have little ability to change the health care system.
  • About 92 percent are unsure where the health system will be or how they will fit into it in three to five years.
  • More than 62 percent of physicians say accountable care organizations (ACOs) are either unlikely to increase health care quality and decrease costs or that any quality and cost gains won't be worth the effort. (See: "What's an ACO and why should you care?")
  • More than 84 percent agree that the medical profession is in decline.
  • More than 52 percent have limited the access Medicare patients have to their practices or are planning to do so. (See: "Call waiting: A guide to helping your parents with Medicare enrollment.")
  • More than 26 percent have closed their practices to Medicaid patients.
  • Physicians spend over 22 percent of their time on non-clinical paperwork.
  • More than 60 percent would retire today, if they had the means.

Some doctors are less pessimistic

Doctors aren't uniform in their opinions, however. The survey found that younger physicians, women, employed physicians and primary care doctors generally are more positive than older physicians, male physicians, practice owners and specialists.

J. Robert Hunter, director of insurance for the nonprofit Consumer Federation of America, says physicians may be feeling pessimistic because of health insurance reform and the fact that change is stressful, especially when it involves your job. Under the evolving health care system, there will be more monitoring of physician practices, he adds.

"The fear is they might not make as much money as they thought they might have," he says. "It is not like anything dire is ahead. Change always makes people a little nervous, even good change."

Physicians "don't really want to be measured, yet ultimately we all are measured," Hunter adds.

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