Study: Small bump in physician retirements in worst month of pandemic

April 2020 saw more than 1 percent of doctors retire.

Fears of mass retirements due to the COVID-19 pandemic may have been overblown.

According to a study appearing in JAMA, practice interruption rates were pretty similar throughout the pandemic as they were in 2019, except for a small bump in April 2020 when lockdowns and moratoriums saw many practices stressed. That month 1.14 percent of physicians stopped practicing and did not return compared to 0.33 percent the same month the year prior.

The impact of the pandemic varied by the characteristics of the physician with older physicians being less likely to return after a practice interruption than younger physicians,1.3 percent and 0.34 percent respectively. Female physicians, specialists, physicians in small practices, physicians not practicing in a location with a health professional shortage, and those in metropolitan areas saw much greater practice interruptions in April 2020 than in 2019 but typically had higher rates of return, according to the study.

“The pandemic appears to have impeded return to practice more for older physicians than for younger physicians, consistent with anecdotal reports and survey findings regarding intent to close practices, retire, or otherwise transition away from clinical medicine,” the study says.

The researchers reached their conclusion by analyzing Medicare claims for 100 percent of fee-for-service beneficiaries from Jan. 1, 2019, to Dec. 30, 2020. They defined practice interruptions as months where a physician who had previously billed Medicare did not bill Medicare and an interruption with a return was defined as when a doctor restarts billing Medicare within six months, according to the study.