Close to half of all physicians (48%) are treating patients through telemedicine, up from 18% in 2018, while many plan to change jobs, opt out of patient care roles or retire in response to the COVID-19 epidemic, according to a new survey.
Conducted by Merritt Hawkins, the nation’s leading physician search firm and a company of AMN Healthcare, in collaboration with The Physicians Foundation, a nonprofit advancing the work of physicians, the survey offers insights into how physicians are being affected by and are responding to COVID-19. Findings from the survey include:
- 38% of physicians are seeing COVID-19 patients
- 60% of physicians who are not seeing COVID-19 patients are willing to do so
- 21% of physicians have been furloughed or experienced a pay cut
- 14% plan to change practice settings as a result of COVID-19
- 18% plan to retire, temporarily close their practices, or opt out of patient care
- 30% who are treating COVID-19 patients are feeling great stress but will continue to see patients
“The impact on physicians from COVID-19 is going to be transformative,” said Travis Singleton, Executive Vice President of Merritt Hawkins. “The way patients access physicians and how and where physicians practice will fundamentally change.”
About one-third of physicians (32%) indicated that they will change practice settings, leave patient care roles, temporarily shut their practices or retire in response to COVID-19. This should be of particular concern to hospitals and other healthcare organizations already struggling with physician shortages and turnover, according to Singleton.
“Once the pandemic has been contained there will be a backlog of procedures and pervasive Covid-19 testing. Physician reengagement and retention will be of even more importance,” Singleton said.
“Even prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, physicians were expressing dissatisfaction in their jobs and experiencing high rates of burnout and mental health issues caused by stressors like regulatory burdens and EHR use,” said Gary Price M.D., President of The Physicians Foundation. “The pandemic is straining physicians further and we need to prioritize providing solutions that will ease the financial and emotional burdens they are feeling as a means to improve their wellbeing now and after the crisis is resolved. It is the least we can do for the health care workers who are risking their lives to take care of everyone else.”
A positive takeaway of the survey is, of the physicians who are currently not treating COVID-19 patients, 60% are willing to do so and one-third (34%) have more time due to the decline in office visits resulting from the pandemic.
Use of Telemedicine Rising
According to The Physicians Foundation’s 2018 Survey of America’s Physicians conducted by Merritt Hawkins, approximately 18% of physicians indicated they were using telemedicine to treat patients. That number has increased to 48%, according to the new survey. The use of telemedicine has been rapidly accelerated by the COVID-19 epidemic, which has spurred changes to reimbursement policies that had previously limited its use, according to Singleton.
The Physicians Foundation, in collaboration with the American Medical Association, is supporting ways to ensure patients and physicians are able to stay connected during the pandemic, such as The Telehealth Initiative.
“One positive result of the pandemic is that barriers to accessing physician services through telemedicine may be reduced, which will be critical as the nation deals with a growing physician shortage,” said Singleton.
About Survey Methodology
Survey data is based on responses from 842 physicians across the country and the survey has margin of error rate of +/- 3.5%. Further information about the survey can be accessed at www.merritthawskins.com or www.phsyciansfoundation.org.