Primary Care Doctors Face Numerous Problems
A survey released today by The Physicians' Foundation depicts widespread frustration and concern among primary care physicians nationwide, which could lead to a dramatic decrease in practicing doctors in the near future. The survey examined the causes behind the doctors' dissatisfaction, the state of their practices and the future of care. The resulting findings show the possibility of significantly decreased access for Americans in the years ahead, as many doctors are forced to reduce the number of patients they see or quit the practice of medicine outright.
An overwhelming majority -- 78 percent -- of physicians believe that there is an existing shortage of primary care doctors in the United States today. Additionally, nearly half of them -- 49 percent, or more than 150,000 practicing doctors -- say that over the next three years they plan to reduce the number of patients they see or stop practicing entirely.
"Going into this project we generally knew about the shortage of physicians; what we didn't know is how much worse it could get over the next few years," said Lou Goodman, PhD, President, The Physicians' Foundation. "The bottom line is that the person you've known as your family doctor could be getting ready to disappear -- and there might not be a replacement."
The Physicians' Foundation believes the future of primary care could have a significant impact on the American healthcare debate.
"At a time when the new Administration and new Congress are talking about ways to expand access to healthcare, the harsh reality is that there might not be enough doctors to handle the increased number of people who might want to see them if they get health insurance," said Walker Ray, MD, Vice President, The Physicians' Foundation. "It's as if we're talking about expanding access to higher education without having enough professors to handle the influx of students. It's basic supply and demand."
The reported reasons for the widespread frustration among physicians include increased time dealing with non-clinical paperwork, difficulty receiving reimbursement and burdensome government regulations. Physicians say these issues keep them from the most satisfying aspect of their job: patient relationships.
"Tens of thousands of primary care doctors face the same problems as millions of ordinary citizens: frustrations in dealing with HMOs and government red tape," said Sandra Johnson, Board Member, The Physicians' Foundation. "The thing we heard over and over again from the physicians was that they're unhappy they can't spend more time with their patients, which is why they went into primary care in the first place."