Merritt Hawkins’ Physician Survey Shows Providers See Social Factors as Key Health Risks

Nationwide, 88 percent of physicians indicate that at least some of their patients (and many patients, in some cases) are affected by social conditions such as poverty, unemployment, lack of education, or drug addiction that poses a serious impediment to their health, according to a survey commissioned by The Physicians Foundation. Among Virginia physicians, 83 percent said such social factors have an impact on their patients’ health. The “2018 Survey of America’s Physicians: Practice Patterns and Perspectives” sampled 8,772 physicians to compile research findings. The survey was conducted by Merritt Hawkins, the nation’s leading physician search and consulting firm, for The Physicians Foundation, a nonprofit organization that seeks to advance the work of practicing physicians and help facilitate the delivery of health care to patients. The survey’s findings align with recent reports tying social determinants of health to declining life expectancy rates in the U.S., and to research showing the connection between poverty and relatively high rates of health care spending in the U.S. compared to other developed nations. The wide-ranging survey also asked physicians about their morale, practice metrics, practice plans, and feelings about the physician-hospital relationship. More than 57 percent of physicians nationwide said they don’t believe that the employment of physicians by hospitals is likely to enhance quality of care or decrease costs. Some 59 percent of Virginia physicians share that view. More than 46 percent of physicians nationwide described the physician-hospital relationship as (somewhat or mostly) negative; 56 percent of Virginia physicians offered that response. These findings demonstrate that physician-hospital alignment can’t always be achieved merely by employing physicians. Enhanced communication and cooperation may be necessary before this key relationship can be considered truly symbiotic (the Merritt Hawkins’ white paper “Ten Keys to Enhancing Physician/Hospital Relations and Reducing Physician Burnout and Turnover” sheds more light on this topic). When asked to describe their practices, more than 79 percent of physicians nationwide said they are either at capacity, or are over-extended and unable to see more patients or take on additional duties. Virginia physicians had an identical response rate of 79 percent on that subject. Nearly 62 percent of physicians nationwide described their professional morale as (somewhat or mostly) negative. For Virginia physicians, the comparable figure is 58.5 percent. The survey includes many other data points derived from dozens of questions that reveal the average number of hours physicians work, the average number of patients they see, and what practice-related changes they plan to make, among other topics. Survey results are available to VHHA members, who are invited to contact Merritt Hawkins’ Senior Marketing Consultant Joe Spivey at for more information.