Optimism for the Future

A new generation of doctors finds plenty of reasons to be optimistic about the future of medicine

Your physician customers have plenty to grumble about. Too many people and agencies peering over their shoulders. Too much paperwork. So many patients, so little time.

Many doctors describe themselves as overextended, and more than half describe in negative terms their feeling about the current state of the profession, according to the recently released “2014 Survey of America’s Physicians,” performed by Merritt Hawkins on behalf of The Physicians Foundation.

If you take a closer look, you will find reasons to be optimistic about the future of medicine, says Kurt Mosley, vice president of strategic alliances, Merritt Hawkins. That’s because of the changing attitudes, hopes and expectations on the part of a new generation of doctors, he says.

Today’s young doctors are more likely to seek employment than own a practice, according to the survey. Little surprise, given that employment offers security, a predictable paycheck, and more, says Mosley. However, employment does not mean a loss of clinical decision-making power relative to independent practice, the survey shows. Both independent and employed physicians sometimes have their clinical autonomy limited, the survey indicates. Today’s doctors have one primary charge – to make sure their patients’ health has improved and that patients are happy about their care, he says. “That gives doctors at least some autonomy.”

There’s more good news, says Mosley: Many doctors are going back into family medicine. “In the past, if you asked, ‘Why are people going into family medicine,’ the answer was, ‘location, location, location,’ They wanted to practice medicine in a certain location. But today, the answer is ‘lifestyle, lifestyle, lifestyle.’”

Young doctors – a growing percentage of whom are female – want better relationships with their patients. They want to spend more time with each of them. That is a luxury that overworked family physicians have been unable to enjoy. But today, with a growing support system – nurse practitioners, hospitalists, physician assistants, etc. – they can do just that. The Affordable Care Act, with its emphasis on the medical home, will only reinforce the trend.

Family medicine is attractive to a new generation of doctors for a couple other reasons, says Mosley. First, compensation continues to increase (though it will probably never eclipse that of many specialists). Second, primary care physicians can do a lot more today than ever before, given new technology, information systems, etc.

“Doctors tell me that the prejudice against family medicine is fading,” he continues. In the past, faculty advisors might have told their interns or residents, “You’re too smart for primary care,” he says. “No more.

“This whole changing of the guard is good news for everyone. We have to have an optimistic medical group. If you’re a patient, you want your doctor to be happy.”