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Physicians Inch Toward Boiling Point

Joe Cantlupe, for HealthLeaders Media, October 4, 2012

So, six out of 10 of you docs want to quit. Turn out the lights. Lock the door. Goodbye.

Walker Ray, MD, remembers his feelings when he shut down his Georgia pediatric practice, for good, after 35 years, and why he had to leave it behind: The 60-hour work weeks. The rolling tide of reduced reimbursements. The missed family gatherings, "the ballet recitals, the swim meets, even the funerals." Then the questions from his kids: "Dad, how long are you going to keep doing this?"

"You look in the mirror…" Ray told me, recalling that moment of self-realization. "I packed it in." 

Ray blames an oppressive regulatory and business climate. "At first, I thought it was only me having this problem. It wasn't," he says. Now, Ray takes doctors' pulse, trying to gauge their feelings about their practices.

Their professional heart rates are elevated. It seems they are feeling the same way he did.  Now, Ray is vice president of the Physicians Foundation, which commissioned an extensive survey of nearly 13,575 physicians. The result? Six out of 10 want out. Meritt Hawkins, the physician search and consulting firm, conducted the survey.

The survey found that 60% of physicians would retire today, if given the opportunity—an increase from 45% in 2008. And it's not just disgruntled and tired Baby Boomers who want to abandon their healing work. At least 47% of physicians under 40 also said they would retire today, if given the opportunity.

The numbers tell the story: Physicians in droves want to leave their practices. We keep hearing that. Now what are we doing about it? 

The key is to start by focusing on the major problem areas. Ray says the survey points to two specific issues above all others–malpractice concerns, and the lack of a cohesive voice among all physician groups.

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3 comments on "Physicians Inch Toward Boiling Point"


Insight 101 (10/8/2012 at 3:49 PM)
Its not MP either. Look at costs in TX where tort reform occured in the early 00's. If tort reform solved the defensive medicine arguement we'd have lower costs but it's just not so. FFS medicine is the driver based on high cost of services coupled with lack of coordination of services, lack of MD communication, lack of meaningful data sharing by insurance plans, laziness in care delivery, patient compliance and/or patient noncompliance and poor the health behavior we exhibit as a nation.

Marit Brock (10/5/2012 at 11:09 AM)
I have to agree with the previous comment. These stories don't seem to change over time and physicians don't actually appear to be quitting in droves. I wonder what the burnout rates of Physician Practice Administrators would show. Cynical comments aside, I do think these issues are real and could/should be addressed in our healthcare system. However, I don't believe that we will make any meaningful progress if we continue to take the approach of "we have to fix this for the physicians". Instead, there has to be a way to get physicians engaged so that we can "fix this WITH the physicians."

Bram Barker (10/4/2012 at 3:14 PM)
Doctors have threatened to quit for forever. No one does because they have no other skills. These stories just get monotonous.