Survey Report: What doctors want most from practice

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More free time, more income, and less hassle around the office were the top choices in our latest survey.



What doctors want most from practice

Jump to:Choose article section...Practice goals for primary care physicians How goals vary with gross income

More free time, more income, and less hassle around the office were the top choices in our latest survey.

By Berkeley Rice
Senior Editor


Most physicians, we assume, are dedicated to providing good patient care. But we wondered what else drives today's doctors. So our 2001 Continuing Survey questionnaire posed the question: "Aside from good patient care, what practice goal would you say motivates you most right now?"

Presented with a list of options, one-third of our primary care respondents picked "more free time," the most popular choice. The next most common goal, picked by more than 27 percent of those responding, was "increased earnings." The third-ranked choice, with 18 percent, was "greater administrative ease of practice."

Back in 1987, the last time we asked about practice goals, greater ease of practice was the top choice, followed by more free time and increased earnings. Another popular option that year was increasing practice size, which garnered 16 percent of the votes.

This year, however, relatively few doctors picked either increasing (8 percent) or reducing (5 percent) the size of their practice, while even fewer cited changing their practice type or becoming more specialized. The 6 percent who marked "other" wrote in such specific goals as better service, compassion, professional development; learning more; dropping HMOs, less call, less hospital work, slowing down, part-time teaching, or retirement.

Ob/gyns, FPs, and pediatricians were most likely to yearn for additional free time and income. Internists, GPs, and pediatricians, however, chose "greater administrative ease" more often than other doctors.

When we compared primary care physicians' goals with their 2000 gross practice income, we found some interesting, if predictable, relationships. For example, "more free time" was most popular among doctors in the higher-earning categories, perhaps because they're putting in longer days and seeing more patients to earn those big bucks.* In contrast, physicians who grossed less than $80,000 were naturally most eager to increase their earnings, but showed much less interest in increasing their free time than their high-earning colleagues.

We also examined doctors' goal preferences according to practice size. According to our data, relatively few doctors in groups of 10 or more showed much desire for greater administrative ease, suggesting they're relatively insulated from managed care hassles. Those in two-doctor partnerships expressed the least interest in increasing their earnings, while those in the biggest groups (25 or more physicians) were most eager to boost their income.

How do your goals compare? Check the accompanying tables to find out.

*See "Are you really working harder now?" Nov. 19, 2001.

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Practice goals for primary care physicians

 CardiologistsFPsGPsInternistsOb/gynsPediatriciansAll primary care physicians*
More free time36%35%30%30%37%35%33%
Increased earnings28321923282627
Greater administrative ease18171921132018
Increased practice size77697118
Reduced practice size35186415
More specialization4123312
Change in practice type0<102<101


How goals vary with gross income*

 Less than $80,000$80,000- 139,000$140,000- 199,000$200,000- 399,000$400,000- 599,000$600,000- 799,000$800,000 or more
More free time19%34%31%32%34%40%44%
Increased earnings32233328273317
Greater administrative ease13201617191119
Increased practice size10798796
Reduced practice size125654<12
More specialization<131125<1
Change in practice type<1211<1<1<1


Doctors in large groups want higher pay

 Partnerships and groups of
 SoloExpense sharers2 physicians3 physicians4-9 physicians10-24 physicians25 or more physicians
More free time29%26%43%27%36%43%40%
Increased earnings26332135332438
Greater administrative ease1721172220106
Increased practice size1061077204
Reduced practice size942<1<120
More specialization2<12<1<1<12
Change in practice type1<1<1<1<1<1<1


HMO participation makes a difference

 Participate with at least one HMONo HMO participation
More free time32%36%
Increased earnings2822
Greater administrative ease2013
Increased practice size810
Reduced practice size38
More specialization21
Change in practice type<12


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How primary care physicians’ goals vary

By years in practice . . .

 1-56-1011-2021-3030 or more
More free time34%34%32%34%32%
Increased earnings3328292615
Greater administrative ease1419191819
Increased practice size913865
Reduced practice size114516
More specialization41212
Change in practice type3<1<1<11

By type of community . . .

 Inner cityRuralSuburbanUrban
More free time24%37%31%35%
Increased earnings31213026
Greater administrative ease21181817
Increased practice size8997
Reduced practice size7646
More specialization3212
Change in practice type11<11

And by region

Practice goals

More free time28%38%34%33%
Increased earnings27242827
Greater administrative ease22161719
Increased practice size11976
Reduced practice size4646
More specialization2212
Change in practice type1<11<1


Berkeley Rice. Survey Report: What doctors want most from practice. Medical Economics 2001;24.