Life as a primary care physician (PCP) isn’t easy these days. The traditional primary care practice is becoming harder and harder to keep pace with, as administrative and regulatory demands comprise up to 40% of a typical doctor’s work day.1 Doctors routinely spend more time in front of their computers attending to electronic medical records and other tasks than they do attending to their patients.
On the front lines of healthcare, physicians continue to find themselves stuck in the middle. There is a constant tug-of-war with patients and paperwork. They are caught in between payers and patient requests.2
But administrative concerns aren’t the only obstacles PCPs face. Some of the biggest challenges are personal. Many doctors struggle with professional burnout and depression, primarily because practicing medicine no longer provides them with the professional satisfaction they once enjoyed.3 The ever-increasing administrative demands imposed on PCPs means they are fighting a losing battle in the war for a sustainable work-life balance.
Defining what work time means is complex in modern medicine. Typical physician duties include patient contact, administrative responsibilities, charting, teaching, meetings, and community outreach activities. And with the addition of mobile technology, work time can easily creep into lifetime.4
Besides carving out time for family and other external demands, PCPs may be so overworked that they neglect their own long-term financial security. Doctors tend to “have very different financial needs than Average Joe: long duration training, big student loans, doctor mortgages, asset protection, unique income structure, employment contract analysis, tax planning for high income, etc.”5 Financial planning should start early, but most PCPs don’t have the luxury of consulting with asset advisors because they’re too busy working. Moreover, PCPs are under constant pressure to introduce additional ancillary services to stay afloat. Those services take even more time away from their general practice, making physicians more unhappy with their lives.
PCPs also must contend with the general anxiety and stress that springs from maintaining large patient panels. Exhaustion from working 80-hour weeks and seeing 30 patients a day can lead to missed or incorrect diagnoses, which may not only be deadly for doctors’ careers, but for patients’ lives. When doctors are too busy pushing their physical limits, their own health can take a hit.
Finally, as their days are consumed by administrative and other non-patient-related demands, they can no longer attend to matters equally important to the practice. PCPs have less time to spend on continuing education and keeping abreast of medical advances.6 At the end of the day, the practice can suffer as much as the practitioner.
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1 Moawad, H. (2018, April 2). Top 8 worst administrative hassles according to physicians. Medical Economics. Retrieved from http://www.medicaleconomics.com/medical-economics/news/top-8-worst-administrative- hassles-according-physicians?cfcache=true&elq_cid=81584&elq_mid=886&rememberme=1.
2 Bendix, J., Krivich, R., Martin, K., Mazzolini, C. & Shryock, T. (2017, December 25). Top 10 challenges facing physicians in 2018. Medical Economics. Retrieved from http://www.medicaleconomics.com/medical- economics-blog/top-10-challenges-facing-physicians-2018.
3 “Fifteen percent of all physicians admitting to experiencing either clinical (severe) or colloquial (“feeling down”) forms of depression (3% to 12%, respectively).” Peckham, C. (2018. January 17). Medscape National Physician Burnout & Depression Report 2018. Medscape. Retrieved from http://www.medicaleconomics.com/medical-economics-blog/top-10-challenges-facing-physicians- 2018/page/0/2.
4 Aymes, S., M.D. (2017, July 26). Work-life balance for physicians: The what, the why, and the how. Medical News Today. Retrieved from https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/318087.php. This article provides tips for maintaining a healthy work life balance.
5 Wrenne, D. (2016 March 2). Financial Planning for Doctors: How to Avoid Common Problems. Wrenne Financial Planning. Retrieved from https://wrennefinancial.com/financial-planning-for-doctors/. 6 Holm, H. (1998, February 14). Quality issues in continuing medical education. The BMJ. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1112642/.