Exclusive Survey: Productivity takes a dip

Many specialties report working fewer hours and seeing fewer patients than they did in 2000.

Malpractice premiums remain high, and Medicare is forever threatening to cut reimbursement rates for medical services. But according to the Medical Economics Continuing Survey of MDs and DOs in office-based practices, physicians in several specialties work fewer hours and see fewer patients in 2005 than they did in 2000. Among primary care physicians, the median workweek dropped from 48 to 45 hours for GPs, from 60 to 55 hours for internists, and from 50 to 45 hours for pediatricians. Orthopedic surgeons shaved a whopping 10 hours off their workweek, from 60 hours to 50. This represented the largest decrease in our survey.

Although most of the current changes are slight, they reflect a downward trend that began a decade ago. Similar trends are evident in numbers of patient visits per week. In addition to working fewer hours, FPs, GPs, and pediatricians are seeing fewer patients now than they did at the turn of the millennium. And while ob/gyns held steady at 100 patients a week, cardiologists and gastroenterologists see more patients in 2005, on average, than they saw in 2000-while maintaining the same 60-hour week.

The busiest doctors, according to our survey, are those between 45 and 49 years of age; they work a median of 55 hours a week. Physicians in all other age groups, including the 30- to 34-year-olds and the 65- to 69-year-olds, put in 50 hours weekly.

The effects of location and managed care participation

The pace of life may be slower in the South-but not for physicians. Our survey indicates that doctors there see a median of 110 patients a week, while physicians in the Midwest see 105, those in the East treat 103, and doctors in the West see 100.

On the other hand, no one is surprised that physicians in rural areas work more hours than physicians in inner city, urban, or suburban locales. Rural areas are underserved, so physicians there tend to be busier than their counterparts.