- Nearly 60% of doctors employed by hospitals and other corporations say that non-physician practice ownership harms patient care quality, according to a new survey of 1,000 doctors commissioned by the Physicians Advocacy Institute.
- Most doctors surveyed blamed decreased time with patients and management’s greater focus on financial success for negatively affecting quality at non-physician-owned medical practices. Fewer than 20% of respondents felt that the growth in corporate ownership has improved care quality.
- Of the physicians who have left private practice, more than half said they were satisfied with their choice to leave. They reported improved work-life balance, increased compensation and less time spent on administrative tasks.
The new survey highlights frustration from providers over the growing corporatization of healthcare. Some are being pushed toward an exit, while others are embracing unionization.
“The patient-physician relationship is the foundation of our healthcare system,” said Kelly Kenney, CEO of the Physicians Advocacy Institute, in a release accompanying the study. "With corporate ownership comes a higher emphasis on financial outcomes and shareholder returns. This focus on the bottom line can interfere with best clinical practices.”
Corporate ownership has surged in recent years. Corporations bought 13,600 physician practices in 2021 alone.
Providers who work under new management reported feeling a lack of autonomy, according to the survey.
Seventy percent of respondents employed by corporate employers reported their employer used incentives or penalties to have them see more patients a day. Others said they had minimal input on practice management policies and decisions, and were required to navigate burdensome electronic health record processes with minimal administrative support.
Around half of survey respondents said practice protocols or incentives have led them to adjust a patient’s treatment options to reduce costs.
“Physicians feel very strongly about keeping their autonomy, their ability to make the best clinical decisions for their patients,” Kenney said. “So when there are policies in place that put corporate bottom lines first, that can really run up against the oaths that they took.”
Forty-four percent of providers surveyed said they would consider joining a trade union if it were an option.
Historically, only a small percentage of physicians have unionized. As of 2022, just 5.9% of physicians were members of a union, according to an analysis published in JAMA.
However, interest in unions has been growing since the COVID-19 pandemic, as grueling work conditions and labor shortages overwhelmed providers.
Most recently, 1,300 Northwestern Medicine resident physicians and fellows announced their intention to unionize to address quality concerns including inadequate staffing.