The cumulative effect of today's physicians working four hours less a week than their predecessors did in 1976 is equivalent to having 36,000 fewer doctors in the workforce, according to a Journal of the American Medical Association analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data conducted by Dartmouth College researchers, who concluded that this reduction could “frustrate stated goals of health reform which may require an expanded physician workforce.”
Docs working fewer hours, study finds
The researchers compared the hours, income and fees collected by doctors between 1976 and 1978 with data from between 2006 and 2008, and found that, on average, physicians are now working 51 hours a week compared to 55.2 hours some three decades earlier. Residents had their work week capped at 80 hours a week in 2003, and saw their average work week fall to 59.3 hours compared with an average of 65.7 hours between 1996 and 1998.
Nonresident physicians saw their work week decrease (5.7%) to 49.6 hours between 2006 and 2007 from an average of 53.6 hours between 1976 and 1978. Based on a workforce of 630,000 physicians, the researchers said the effect was the same as 36,000 individuals leaving the profession.
The researchers cited figures noting how physician fees, when adjusted for inflation, decreased by 25% between 1996 and 2006, giving physicians less incentive to work longer hours. They also noted how, when adjusted for inflation, physician income decreased by 7% between 1995 and 2003, and cited studies indicating doctors where adjusting by reducing the time they spent on nonpatient-care activities, increasing their ownership stake in ancillary services, and spending less time per patient.
“This trend toward lower hours, if it continues, will make expanding or maintaining current levels of physician supply more difficult, although increases in the number of practicing physicians either through increases in the size of domestic medical school classes or further immigration of international medical graduates would mitigate those concerns,” the report said.
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