Fierce Q&A: Physicians feel powerless to change healthcare

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We've reported on a number of physician surveys in recent months, but a just-released report from the Physicians Foundation is among the biggest. Conducted by physician staffing firm Merritt Hawkins, the Physicians Foundation's third biennial report on physician practice patterns and perspectives captured the attitudes of more than 13,500 U.S. physicians on 48 separate questions.

To gain further insight into what all these data points mean for your practices and physicians, FiercePracticeManagement spoke with Karl M. Altenburger (pictured), a board-certified allergist/immunologist who practiced medicine in Florida for more than 25 years and now serves on the Physicians Foundation's board of directors.

FiercePracticeManagement: As we look at these results, what do you view as the areas of biggest concern?

Altenburger: We're certainly interested in the idea of physician access and physician shortages. The big concern is that within the next decade, we'll have 100,000 physicians sharply curtail their practices or retire. And with all of the changes in the Medicare program, 52 percent of respondents to this survey indicated they already limited or are going to limit access to the Medicare population. It's going to create access problems; there's just no avoiding it.

Another big concern is physician morale because it affects physicians' willingness to fight the battles that have to be fought on behalf of their patients. When you say that 77 percent of physicians in this survey are pessimistic about the future of medicine, I don't think that's a good number. If I was a policymaker, that would be a red flag.

Also alarming is that 84 percent of physicians in this particular survey believe the medical profession is in decline. What a horrible number for a profession that's so important to the people of this country.

Worse yet in my mind is that 82 percent feel they have very little ability to change the healthcare system, and that's a sign that the forces at work here, most physicians feel are out of their reach.

In particular, I think it reflects a feeling that policymakers, especially those involved in forming the Affordable Care Act, really excluded physicians and didn't spend enough time talking to those of us on the front lines.