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Physicians’ satisfaction with their professional lives has declined substantially in the last 15 years, according to a study sponsored by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The study compared findings from surveys of primary care physicians practicing in Massachusetts in 1986 and 1997.
Nearly half of the physicians who work in practices that contract with multiple insurers reported one or more insurance company denials of patient care in the past year. These physicians reported being highly dissatisfied with methods for obtaining health plan authorization for patient care, and fewer than half would recommend the health plans with which they were associated to family members or friends. Physicians who contracted exclusively with one health plan did not express the same level of dissatisfaction.
Fewer than two-thirds of 1997 respondents were satisfied in most areas of practice, and fewer than half were content with the time they spent with patients, the amount of leisure time they had, and incentives for providing high-quality care as compared to physicians responding to the 1986 survey.
"This important research shows that changes in the way health care is delivered affect those who are dedicated to providing care for their patients. Both the public and private sectors need to work together to help health professionals adapt to the changes in the structure and organization of the American health care system," says John M. Eisenberg, MD, director of AHRQ.
The study was confined to Massachusetts physicians, but researchers believe similar findings would occur in other parts of the country with similar health care markets.
Physician satisfaction is important because dissatisfaction leads to increased physician turnover, which leads to decreased continuity of care for patients and higher costs to the medical system, says Dana Gelb Safran, SC.D, of the New England Medical Center in Boston, principal investigator for the project.