You aren't imagining it: The physician workforce is changing in 3 major ways

Editor's note: This story was updated on July 6, 2017.

by Aly Seidel, Daily Briefing

The physician workforce is changing in three big ways—and providers who recognize and adapt to that reality will be best positioned to succeed in the future, Advisory Board experts Laura Martin and Gabbie DeCuir tell the Daily Briefing.

No. 1: The new generation of physicians is different than their predecessors—and they care about different things.

Compared with older doctors, the new generation of physicians has a higher number of women and minorities. Partly a result, the new cohort has different priorities than prior generations.

According to a Merritt Hawkins survey, 99 percent of final-year medical residents cite adequate coverage and sufficient personal time as the most important factors driving their choice of practice opportunities. For earlier cohorts, compensation tended to be the more important consideration, Martin says.  

"Progressive physician groups have been giving doctors more autonomy over when they work," Martin says. "A younger physician may want to get off early and spend some time at home with their family, so she doesn't mind coming in early. But there might be another physician whose kids are in college, so she wants to take those extra weekend shifts because she wants the additional pay."

No. 2: Physicians are increasingly burdened by new metrics. But their organizations can help them shoulder the load.

It's not just the workforce itself that's changing. New and old doctors alike also face external pressures that will require organizations to provide new kinds of support, DeCuir says.

"Not only are physicians participating in more risk-based models," DeCuir says, "but the way physicians are measured and paid is drastically changing. We're going to need to deal with this in the coming years." 

The shift toward greater data reporting is a particular burden on mid-career physicians. "We've seen a lot pushback from older physicians," DeCuir says, "who don't see how the hassle of reporting metrics is worth it for their practice."

To address these concerns, hospitals and health care administrators need to supply care teams with new tools and techniques to help them adapt. For instance, DeCuir says that health care organizations can provide medical scribes to reduce documentation pressure and give them more time with their patients.

Health care organizations also need to talk to physicians about why performing well on these new metrics is so important, DeCuir says—even on informal metrics such as Yelp reviews.

"Some physicians see 'customer service' as outside their purview," DeCuir says, "but we've seen that consumers are increasingly turning to sources like Yelp to decide where to get care."

No. 3: Patients are more demanding than ever. That's forcing physicians into unfamiliar roles.

Physicians also are feeling the squeeze from their own patients. Patients are increasingly on the hook to pay for rising health care costs, so they're getting choosier about their care and demanding better access at a lower cost.

"Patients want more convenient hours," Martin says. "They want to be able to talk to providers on the phone or through a patient portal; they want to be able to discuss cost up front. These are all additional demands on a physician's time and knowledge base."

But many of the new demands on physicians, such as talking to patients about costs, are outside of their traditional wheelhouse. "Explaining co-pays was never demanded of physicians before, and it tends to not be in their skill set," Martin says.

Organizations can ease the pressure, DeCuir adds, by integrating the entire care staff into these conversations. If more tasks can be delegated to front office staff, clinicians will have more time to focus on providing care.

"The entire team needs to be scrubbed in to help," DeCuir says.

Learn how to addresses physician burnout and create a high-performing network

Physician burnout is compounding the problem, with over half of today’s physicians reporting symptoms of burnout. Join our experts tomorrow while we examine how you can create a physician network with the right partners—and how to sustain your network for consistently high performance.

You'll learn about:

  • How to take a more strategic—rather than reactive—approach to network curation;
  • The right structures to engage and support physicians in working against network goals; and
  • How to directly addresses physician burnout by providing wraparound support and strengthening physicians’ sense of professional and personal balance.

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