Debunking Physician Satisfaction Surveys

Many studies have been done regarding U.S. physician satisfaction.  With all the changes resulting from healthcare reform, it would stand to reason that there should be some sort of shift (up or down) in physician satisfaction.  Surveys, generally speaking, do not seem to reflect that.  My own experience as I meet with physicians across the country is a growing disheartening of the field of medicine and the healthcare industry as a whole.

Alas, a composite analysis of 22 studies regarding physician satisfaction was undertaken by several professors at Northeastern University in Boston.  Looking at empirical studies published between 2008 and 2013 that examine U.S. physician job, career, or work satisfaction, they compared their review findings with a review covering studies published between 1970 and 2007.

The two reviews (theirs looking at 2008-2013 studies and another looking at 1970-2007 studies) were consistent regarding satisfaction findings with few exceptions.  One of those exceptions was a study from 2012 that found dermatology, pediatrics, and preventive medicine had higher satisfaction levels than surgical subspecialties and obstetrics/gynecology.  So, at this point it appears that physician satisfaction has not changed at all since 1970.  Is that accurate?  Perhaps not.

The Northeastern University crew had many issues with how data was being looked at for these studies in their 2008-2013 review.  “Clearly, given the fluidity of the system and the internal changes affecting the U.S. medical profession, future studies of physician satisfaction require an expansion of methodological approaches, a greater emphasis on primary data collection, and increased use of real-time data that more accurately capture the current satisfaction-related realities.”  They noted that future studies of U.S. physician satisfaction should focus more on variables that reflect the key dynamics occurring within and to the profession of medicine today, such as age and gender.

The review concluded that much of the U.S. physician satisfaction research published over the past 5 years has been unable to examine satisfaction relative to the current organizational and practice contexts within which physicians under study currently find themselves.  They correctly call out current research and identified a need for future research to examine how the satisfaction of U.S. physicians is affected when they practice in settings where performance-based pay constitutes all or most of a practice’s reimbursement.  Additionally, they noted that there remain a number of other important workplace variables such as commitment, burnout, empowerment, and role conflict, which merit study in terms of physicians as a group.

The review, titled “Understanding U.S. Physician Satisfaction: State of the Evidence and Future Directions,” has been published in the Journal of Healthcare Management.

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