Why Are Doctors Working Fewer Hours?

Elyas Bakhtiari, for HealthLeaders Media , February 25, 2010

Which brings me back to the looming Medicare payment cut. Congress has until next Monday to permanently fix the SGR formula or delay the scheduled 21% cut.

The American Medical Association and other physician groups obviously want the former, and they have boldly campaigned against short-term fixes in favor of real solutions. But that is risky considering a bill that would have fixed the SGR-driven problems failed to pass in the Senate last fall.

Congress has become dysfunctional, and government spending has become such a hot-button political issue that it is difficult to muster support for things worthy of our dollars. As of this writing, it looks like the best Washington can offer for now is delaying the cut until March 28.

But if policy makers don't get their act together and the cut goes into effect, or if they only put another Band-Aid on this growing gash in the healthcare system, the research about physician work hours may be telling of what's to come.

Theoretically, if reimbursement fell by 21%, a lot of physicians would work 21% longer in order to maintain current incomes. But that's not going to happen. It just isn't worth the extra stress, effort, and resources for a lot of doctors.

Instead, they're just going to work less, and patient access will ultimately suffer.

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Elyas Bakhtiari is a freelance editor for HealthLeaders Media.

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