Many US physicians financially impacted by COVID-19, surveys show
Almost half of physicians who were surveyed in the U.S. reported losing their jobs, seeing a reduction in pay or being furloughed since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to data released during IDWeek.
“Health care workers are in an unprecedented situation,” Greer A. Burkholder, MD, MSPH, an assistant professor of medicine at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, told Healio Primary Care. “It is important that we study the effects of the pandemic on physicians and other health care workers in a systematic way.”
Burkholder and colleagues distributed a 31-item anonymous survey via professional and social networks, email, Facebook groups and #MedicalTwitter from May 14 to July 31. The survey asked questions about employment status, workload and compensation experiences during the past month.
The researchers reported that of the 597 physicians who responded, 49% lost their jobs, experienced a reduction in pay or were furloughed. Among those affected, 71% were emergency medicine physicians, 63% were anesthesiologists, 60% were surgeons and 25% were infectious disease specialists. Physicians practicing in federal or academic settings (OR = 0.09; 95% CI, 0.03-0.3) experienced less economic impact than those in community settings (OR = 0.61; 95% CI, 0.41-0.93), while those employed in the Northeastern United States experienced fewer economic impacts than those in the South (OR = 3.44; 95% CI, 2.03-5.84), Midwest (OR = 2.62; 95% CI, 1.36-5.05) or West (OR = 1.98; 95% CI, 1.06-3.71).
Burkholder said the regional findings closely align with the spread of COVID-19 across the United States.
“In Southern states there were shutdowns at the beginning of the pandemic but fewer COVID‐19 cases initially than in the Northeast or West,” she said. “I'm in Alabama and we didn't hit our peak until July. It is likely Southern states were experiencing a decline in patients seeking care and elective procedures as people stayed home.”
Among all respondents, 31% reported increased work hours and of those, 92% said the additional hours were partially or completely uncompensated. Among 584 survey respondents, 36% had new roles and responsibilities, with infectious disease physicians (75%) making up the highest proportion.
A similar survey of 3,500 physicians conducted by AMA from mid-July through mid-August revealed a more dire situation for physicians amid the pandemic.
The AMA said that 81% of physicians surveyed said that their current revenue was lower than before the pandemic began in the United States in February. The average physician has experienced a 32% drop in revenue since February, the AMA continued.
“Health care organizations should have mechanisms in place to assess the well-being of their workers and the stressors that they are experiencing,” Burkholder said in response to the IDWeek-related findings. “In addition, health care organizations need to seek input from workers as far as solutions for relieving pandemic‐induced stressors.”
AMA. COVID-19 physician practice financial impact survey results. https://www.ama-assn.org/system/files/2020-10/covid-19-physician-practice-financial-impact-survey-results.pdf. Accessed Oct. 28, 2020.
Willett E, et al. ID-16. Presented at: IDWeek, Oct. 21-25, 2020 (virtual meeting).