Five ways healthcare executives can better support physicians

October 22, 2017

A survey explores how physicians perceive their role in the healthcare system, and the findings aren’t good.

A recent survey by the Physicians Foundation reveals top concerns consumers have regarding physicians. When those survey findings are compared to a previous Physicians Foundation survey of physicians, it’s clear that there’s also a big disconnect between how consumers and physicians perceive the physicians’ role in the healthcare system.    

The Foundation’s 2016 Biennial Physician Survey of 17,236 physicians across the U.S., found that 59% believe they have little ability to significantly influence the healthcare system.

Ray

“A disconnect exists between patients and physicians when comparing the perceived influence physicians have on the overall healthcare system-patients consistently believe physicians have greater influence than is reported by physicians themselves,” says Walker Ray, MD, president of the Physicians Foundation.

Furthermore, 90% of patients say that physicians are patient advocates and play a vital part in providing quality and affordable healthcare, but the 2016 Biennial Physician Survey showed that a loss of clinical autonomy among physicians is a top factor negatively impacting their job satisfaction.

“Physicians often find that their ability to make what they believe are the best decisions for their patients is obstructed or undercut by bureaucratic requirements or third parties who are nonphysicians,” says Gary Price, MD, clinical assistant professor of surgery at Yale-New Haven Hospital and a board member of the Physicians Foundation. “This frustration can lead to physician burnout, and healthcare executives should be concerned with all factors affecting burnout.”

How healthcare leaders can better support physicians

Given the survey findings, Price and Ray recommend that healthcare leaders do the following:

1.   Prioritize physician autonomy

Price

“Autonomy allows physicians to be both responsive to and responsible for patients’ needs and concerns,” Price says. “It gives them the opportunity to be patient advocates, operate with judgmental independence and serve with the patient's best interest in mind.”

Ninety-six percent of healthcare consumers believe doctors should advocate for their patients, but erosion of clinical autonomy makes this a challenge, according to the recent consumer survey. “This disconnect between the patients’ expectations and the physicians’ ability to be patient advocates plays a significant role in the frustrations leading to physician burnout, a recognized concern of all healthcare leaders,” Price says.

2.   Enhance access

“Narrowing insurance networks, physician shortages and mounting paperwork are some of the trends that impact patient access to care. In order for physicians to be effective patient advocates, there must be more support for the overall concept of ‘access,’ and commitment to improve” Ray says. “This includes greater transparency into payer decisions such as the freedom to refer patients to additional care team members."

3.   Foster transparency

“All healthcare stakeholders must collaborate to address challenges that make the current system difficult to understand,” Price says. “This includes bringing greater transparency to areas such as costs, billing practices, narrowing networks, etc.”

4.   Address physician well-being

Physicians require support from other healthcare professionals as burnout can have devastating effects on physicians’ quality of life, as well as on cost, access and quality, says Ray.

5.   Support physician leadership

“As physicians increasingly face administrative and regulatory burdens, it is imperative that a greater emphasis is placed on building core business, management and leadership skills,” Price says.