U.S. physicians, in many ways, are feeling like they are burning the candle at both ends, especially when it comes to their workloads and physician billing services. According to a leading major survey conducted by The Physicians Foundation, a nonprofit aimed that advancing the work of practice physicians, 81 percent of 20,000 surveyed doctors stated that they were either overworked or at full capacity.

The research titled "2014 Survey of America's Physicians: Practice Patterns and Perspectives" painted a realistic picture of physician workloads across the country, and the results were quite eye-opening. For instance, only 19 percent claimed that they had the time to see new patients. Forty-four percent of those surveyed saying that they were already implementing steps that were negatively impacting patients, including:

  • Reducing the number of patients seen
  • Retirement
  • Working part-time
  • Searching for non-clinical jobs
  • Closing their practices to new patients

Policy challenges and physician work overload
The survey explained that there were two main policy issues related to this increase. One is related to government insurance programs. In 2011, more than 75 million baby boomers began the process of turning 65 and qualifying for Medicare. In the same vein, millions of new Americans took part in private health insurance exchanges through the Affordable Care Act. These two major events taking place within the same five-year period have started to put an added strain on physician well-being – namely something known in the health care industry as doctor burnout.

Patient experience, doctor burnout and a growing (and aging) population
The highlights of this survey are painting a clear-cut analysis of what is happening to doctors around the country – mostly that a vast majority of the demographic is overworked. The New York Times claimed that research over the past 10 years has indicated a steady rise in emotional exhaustion, detachment from patients and plummeting levels of self-accomplishment for doctors and those in residency. 

"We're not talking about a few individuals who are disorganized or not functioning well under pressure; we're talking about one out of every two doctors who have already survived rigorous training," Dr. Tait D. Shanafelt, a professor of medicine at the Mayo Clinic, explained to the Times. "These numbers speak to bigger problems in the larger health care environment."

A 2012 survey published in the Archives of Internal Medicine found similar results to The Physicians Foundation survey, showing that nearly 46 percent of doctors reported at least one symptom of physician burnout. Those who worked in specialties with a front line of care access seemed to be most at-risk for burnout, but doctors as a whole experience these symptoms more than other professions in the U.S. 

The consequences of doctor burnout aren't great for doctors or patients. The source noted that physicians who are burned out are more likely to commit errors, treat patients more like objects rather than people and could quit practicing for good. This comes as a difficult time when doctor shortages are creeping up in areas across the U.S.

Solutions for physician burnout
The promise of electronic health records and more streamlined medical billing services should be an effective means to lessen the amount of time doctors spend on administrative duties. These effective technology platforms could make seeing patients much more effective and enjoyable for everyone involved and allow doctors to spend more time in the exam rooms where they belong.