KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

Doctors Work Fewer Hours, Study Finds

A new study finds that doctors are working fewer hours even as the shortage of primary care physicians persists.

The Associated Press/CBS News : "Average hours dropped from about 55 to 51 hours per week from 1996 to 2008, according to the analysis, appearing in Wednesday's Journal of the American Medical Association. That's the equivalent of losing 36,000 doctors in a decade, according to the researchers. And it raises policy questions amid a looming primary care doctor shortage and Congress considering an expansion of health insurance coverage that would mean more patients. Work-hour limits for residents, or doctors in training, were introduced in 2003 and brought down the average. But when researchers removed the resident doctors from the analysis, they still found a nearly 6 percent decline in work hours."

"The overall decrease in hours coincided with a 25 percent decline in pay for doctors' services, adjusted for inflation." When the researchers examined U.S. cities with the lowest and highest doctor fees, they found physicians tended to work fewer hours in the low-fee cities and longer ones in high-fee areas. "Greater competition and more managed care in the low-fee cities may provide a clue to why doctors are working fewer hours." At the same time, "fewer medical students are choosing primary care and more are pursuing higher paying specialties" (2/23).

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