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Could Low Provider Morale Affect Patient Healthcare Access?

A new Physicians Foundation survey reveals low provider morale and suggests this may contribute to limited patient healthcare access.

Low job satisfaction and physician morale may be negatively affecting patient healthcare access, shows a Physician Foundation survey report.

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The survey, administered to nearly 17,000 primary care and specialty physicians, shows that 53.9 percent of respondents reported low job satisfaction, and 62 percent expressed a negative view of the future of the medical profession.  

According to the researchers, these bleak outlooks may pose a threat to patient care.

“The primary public policy and healthcare concern attached to low physician morale is the prospect of physicians modifying their practice styles in ways that reduce patient access, or the prospect that physicians will abandon patient care roles or leave medicine altogether,” the report says.

This concern may be coming to fruition, with 48 percent of physicians stating plans to withdraw from the medical profession. Fourteen percent of respondents reported upcoming retirement plans and 13 percent reported plans to transition to non-clinical jobs.

A shrinking medical workforce may be problematic, the report notes. As more patients become insured via the Affordable Care Act and practices transition to value-based care, an adequate physician workforce may be critical to facilitating patient healthcare access.

Other respondents indicated that they would cut back on their clinical practice time, with 21 percent reporting plans to trim their hours and 7 percent reporting plans to reduce their patient load. Some physicians said they wanted to transition to concierge medicine or locum tenens.

These finding may aggravate an access issue that is already hindering the healthcare industry. Forty-eight percent of respondents said they already have limited time with their patients, and eighty percent said their patient load is over capacity.

This is particularly disheartening considering physician views on patients, the report says. Nearly 74 percent of providers said that patient-provider interactions are the primary source of job satisfaction, outranking other job benefits by nearly 15 percent.

As providers struggle to fully engage with their patients, this source of satisfaction may likewise dwindle.

“When the quality of patient relationships declines, either through lack of clinical autonomy, liability concerns, a continuing struggle for reimbursement, lack of patient face-time, and other factors, the primary source of physician satisfaction is undermined,” the report says.

“Clearly, the fundamental reason why many physicians continue to exhibit low morale is the erosion of the physician/ patient relationship.”

Leaders from the Physicians Foundation say physician morale and its effect on patient healthcare access presents a significant issue for the healthcare industry.

“By retiring, taking non-clinical roles or cutting back in various other ways, physicians are essentially voting with their feet and leaving the clinical workforce,” said Walker Ray, MD, President of the Physicians Foundation and chair of its Research Committee, in a press release.

“This trend is to the detriment of patient access. It is imperative that all healthcare stakeholders recognize and begin to address these issues more proactively, to support physicians and enhance the medical practice environment.”

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