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Study: Healthcare demands taking toll on physician health, patient care

MDVIP survey finds 54 percent of physicians admit they often end up writing prescriptions or referring patients to specialists.

Jeff Lagasse, Associate Editor

The demands of practicing medicine in the U.S. are taking a toll on physicians' health and impacting the way doctors care for patients, according to the new MDVIP Physician Health Survey.

The survey of primary care physicians, conducted by Ipsos Public Affairs, found that 83 percent of doctors are spread so thin that they aren't able to spend enough time with their patients. As a result, 54 percent of physicians admit they often end up writing prescriptions or referring patients to specialists because of time constraints.

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The study was conducted to better understand the experiences and practices of internists, family doctors and general practitioners when it comes to their patients' health, as well as their own. And the results indicate that many doctors aren't practicing what they preach.

Three out of four doctors report not getting enough sleep or exercise, attributing the shortfall to their heavy workloads, while 55 percent are overweight or obese. And 60 percent say the demands of the job prevent them from making optimal food choices.

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One of the barriers to better physician health, the research found, is the high-pressure work environment. Two out of three doctors say that work stress is negatively impacting their life and makes them feel like they're on a treadmill that continues to speed up.

As for what's contributing to their stress levels, too much paperwork and bureaucracy top the list at 74 percent, followed by new technologies like electronic medical records at 43 percent and working long hours at 39 percent.

These demands on doctors may also have long-term consequences, including physician burnout. The study found that 41 percent of primary care doctors have seriously contemplated quitting medicine due to work stress, and 48 percent would not pursue a career in primary care if they had to do it all over again.

"In order to provide effective personalized care, doctors need more time with patients to get a clearer picture of their overall health, emphasize prevention and coach on lifestyle habits like diet and exercise," said Dr. Andrea Klemes, chief medical officer at MDVIP, in a statement. "Yet today, doctors are pressured to see more patients and to spend less time with each. The survey data suggests that this may lead to unnecessary medications and referrals, which can increase medical costs."

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