Survey: Doctors Dissatisfied With Practice Environment In State

By HILARY WALDMAN
http://www.courant.com

Many Connecticut physicians are thinking about changing jobs or moving out of state because they are sick and tired of practicing medicine here.

The picture of doctor dissatisfaction comes from a survey of 1,077 practicing physicians commissioned by the Connecticut State Medical Society and published today in the society’s journal, Connecticut Medicine.

The physicians surveyed complained that they are working longer hours while new patients wait weeks for appointments. They blamed high malpractice insurance costs, restrictions imposed by managed care and the high cost of living and doing business in Connecticut.

Of the doctors who filled out questionnaires sent out by the medical society within the past six months, 19.3 percent said they were contemplating a career change. In a separate question, 10.8 percent said they planned to leave Connecticut because of the practice environment.

That, combined with tremendous difficulty in recruiting new doctors to the state, especially to Litchfield, Windham and New London counties, could result in a physician shortage that ultimately compromises patient care, sponsors of the survey warned.

“Assuring there is an adequate supply and the right mix of physicians will be crucial if we are to provide quality, affordable health care to everyone in our state,” said Juan A. Figueroa, president of the Universal Health Care Foundation of Connecticut, which paid for the survey.

“This survey shows us where some of the shortages and potential shortages may lie, as well as gives us valuable information about physicians’ opinions about health care reform.” The survey was conducted by the Institute for Public Health Research at the University of Connecticut Health Center.

Medical society leaders said the results should serve as a blueprint for legislative changes that could improve the practice environment for doctors in Connecticut. The needed changes include cutting malpractice insurance premiums and expanding health insurance for low-income residents, although doctors were divided on the best way to provide health care for all.

Dr. William A. Handleman, a Torrington kidney specialist and president of the state medical society, said primary care doctors have been hardest hit by the difficult working conditions because they make less money than specialists and are the gatekeepers for managed care.

And at the same time that primary care doctors are looking to quit, Connecticut’s population is getting older, increasing the need for medical care.

Handleman called on the General Assembly to consider creating a loan forgiveness program that would allow primary care doctors to erase their medical school debts if they agree to practice for four years in one of the state’s highest-need areas. Such a program might keep Connecticut-trained physicians here, and attract physicians from out of state.

In addition, said Dr. Angelo Carrabba, immediate past president of the medical society, the state must continue to increase rates paid by public health insurance plans, including HUSKY and Charter Oak, so that it does not cost doctors money to treat low-income patients.

“We are small businesses,” said Carrabba, an OB/-GYN at St. Francis Hospital and Medical Center in Hartford. “We want to do our part, but we’ve got to be able to feed our families and keep the lights on.”

Contact Hilary Waldman at hwaldman@courant.com.

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