6 Top Challenges Facing Physicians

Feeling stressed? Overburdened by administrative requirements? Or simply wishing you had more time to spend with your patients?

You’re not alone.

Today’s physicians are juggling a number of obstacles and challenges, despite their devotion to the practice of medicine and the health of their patients. Here’s an overview of some top challenges facing physicians in today’s healthcare climate:

6 Common Physician Challenges

1. Less time with patients

Electronic documentation and other administrative burdens continue to cut in on the time physicians actually spend with patients.

According to a 2016 study in the Annals of Internal Medicine, physicians spent just 27 percent of an average day or shift with patients, while nearly 50 percent of their day was spent on electronic health records and other “desk work”. This imbalance can wear on physicians and other practitioners who desire to spend more time in direct patient care.

Creative solutions may involve streamlining work processes, sharing some responsibilities with mid-level providers and other staff, changing your work environment, or finding ways to make every minute with patients count.

RELATED: Which Physicians Spend the Most Time with Patients?

2. Regulatory requirements

Physicians have to deal with a mountain of administrative burdens and paperwork on a regular basis. They have to report a steady stream of data and information to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) for reimbursement. The data reporting duties required by Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act, or MACRA, may never be very far from their minds.

Even with recent efforts by CMS to streamline the reporting process, “it’s a headache and will only be more so over time,” said Fred Bentley, vice president, health plans and providers, for the healthcare consulting firm Avalere Health.

RELATED: What Providers Need to Know About EHR Mandates in 2018

3. Funding challenges

Many smaller and independent practices may be worried about funding issues. “A big challenge is depending almost entirely on a third party for reimbursement,” said Alejandro Bajia, MD, who cofounded the orthapaedic care clinic OrthoNOW in Florida and serves as chief medical officer. “The irony is that the onus of the increasing expenses is completely on the physician with those third parties, or the government not helping fund that.”

For example, physician practices are required to use certain kinds of technology, such as the electronic health record, but they have to come up with the money to fund it, said Bajia. These types of challenges are driving more physicians to consider employment options vs. running their own practice.

4. Staffing

A growing number of independent practices have been swallowed up by hospitals and healthcare systems in recent years, with the trend accelerating even faster among rural hospitals than urban hospitals, according to a 2016 report from Avalare and the Physicians Advocacy Institute (PAI). That can present staffing challenges to the practices that remain independent.

“It’s great that the economy is booming but getting highly qualified nurses and administrative staff and keeping them is that much more challenging,” said Bentley. “It’s really tough. The smaller your practice, the harder your ability to remain competitive with salaries.”

When physician shortages are the problem, both small practices and large health systems often turn to locum tenens physicians to alleviate temporary vacancies. Agencies like Staff Care can offer short-term solutions for employers, and a welcome alternative for physician jobseekers.

RELATED: Physician Practice Ownership Declines, Employment Rises

5. Ethical dilemmas

Physicians also must confront a number of ethical challenges on the job today, as they deal with life-and-death situations amid priorities that can pull them in different directions.

For instance, how do you balance patient need with their ability to pay, or make decisions about expensive end-of-life care that only delays the inevitable?

The American Medical Association Code of Medical Ethics provides guidelines and building blocks for ethical practice, but each physician is responsible for doing their best within the circumstances. It can make for some very tough decisions on a daily basis.

RELATED: The Top Ethical Challenges for Physicians

6. Physician burnout

Job burnout continues to be one of the biggest challenges facing doctors today, with more than half of the physicians in a 2018 Medscape survey exhibiting some signs of burnout.

The most recent NEJM Catalyst survey on physician burnout and resilience found that 83 percent of clinicians and healthcare leaders believe physician burnout is a “serious” or “moderate” problem in their organizations.

“By and large, physicians are satisfied with the work they do, but they’re highly stressed, and stress is a predictor for or an antecedent to burnout,” said Elizabeth Goelz, MD, assistant director for the Office of Professional Worklife and associate director for clinical programs in the division of general internal medicine for Hennepin Healthcare in Minneapolis.

The multiple challenges they face can all contribute to an increased risk for burnout. “All those pressures come together,” Goelz said.

And the repercussions can be dire—from doctors leaving the profession to entering a downward spiral in their physical and mental health.

RELATED: Prevent Physician Burnout: How Locum Tenens Can Boost Satisfaction

Silver linings and physician-driven solutions

Now, some good news. With a predicted shortage of physicians stretching into the future, physicians have relatively good overall job security.

“There is strong demand for your services, and it’s only going to get stronger,” said Bentley.

Plus, there is a much greater awareness of the prevalence of physician burnout and its serious repercussions, and a growing body of research focused on measuring and addressing it, noted Goelz. Individuals and organizations are aware of the problem, and its costs, which is progress.

"There's certainly more work to be done," she continued. "But it's moving in the right direction."

Physicians are also becoming better self-advocates for their own health and well-being, and less accepting of the status quo. Whether asking for assistance, opting for a change in schedule, or changing jobs entirely, they know that ultimately they have the power to make positive changes.

RELATED: 5 Ways Part-time Physician Jobs Could Work for You

STAFF CARE can help you find your ideal practice setting across the U.S., including part-time or full-time opportunities. CONTACT our professional recruiters to get started.

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