What the physician market looks like today: 10 key notes

Increased consolidation, noncompete clauses and provider shortages are three of the workforce trends making physicians nervous. 

"Physician practices are being bought out or acquired in a trend that is sweeping across this nation (now 90,000 strong) with Optum,"  Udaya Bhaskar Padakandla, MD. President of the Texas Society of Anesthesiologists, told Becker's. "Two things about it bothers me more than any other: This increasingly leads to loss of independence in the decision-making ability of physicians in patients' best interest, and second, government watchdogs (like the FTC) are passive onlookers to this dominance of the physician workforce by a monopolizing entity. But at the same time, much smaller physician groups (with 3,000 to 5,000 physicians) get sued by the same entity for 'monopolizing' the marketplace."

Here are 10 numbers illustrating the state of the physician workforce:

1. The U.S. could see a shortage of up to 86,000 physicians by 2036, according to a report from Association of American Medical Colleges. 

2. Optum is the largest employer of physicians in the U.S., with almost 90,000 employed or affiliated physicians.

3. Around 71,309 physicians left the workforce from 2021 through 2022, according to Definitive Healthcare's analysis of medical claims, which is 6% of the overall workforce.

4. More than 77% of U.S. physicians are employed by hospitals, health systems or corporate entities, according to an Avalere study sponsored by Physicians Advocacy Institute.

5. From 2022 to 2023, the percentage of employed physicians grew by 5.1% — with 19,100 physicians becoming employees of hospitals or corporate entities, according to the Avalere report. 

6. As of Jan. 1, physician practice ownership by corporations, which includes payers, private equity firms and large pharmacy chains, hit 30.1%, surpassing ownership by hospitals and health systems for the first time.

7. Younger physicians in particular, many of whom are facing higher debts and a more unstable workforce, are looking to employment. A total of 85% of physicians 40 and younger work for an employer, according to Medscape's 2023 "Young Physician Compensation Report.

8. Around 26% of physicians are considering leaving their primary roles as physicians to pivot to nonclinical careers, according to Medscape's "Physicians and Nonclinical Careers Report 2023."

9. Forty percent of active physicians in the U.S. will be 65 or older in the next 10 years, according to a 2021 report by the Association of American Medical Colleges. 

10. Fourteen percent of male physicians and 16% percent of female physicians said their burnout is so severe that they are considering leaving medicine, according to Medscape's "Physician Burnout & Depression Report" for 2024.

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