Health Team

Study: Doctors' work hours on the decline

Posted February 23, 2010 5:24 p.m. EST
Updated February 23, 2010 7:49 p.m. EST

WRAL Health Team

The number of hours that doctors spend on the job is on the decline, according to a study published recently in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Researchers studied physician data from the U.S. Census survey from 1976 to 2008 and found that the average number of hours a week a doctor worked declined 7 percent – from 55 hours in 1976 to 51 hours in 2008.

"We think that probably the changing financial and competitive pressures on physicians are just discouraging long work hours," said Douglas Staiger, a professor at or Dartmouth College.

Two reasons they found to support that was a 25 percent decline in fees, adjusted for inflation, over the last decade.

"The second was that the regions that had the lowest fees also saw physicians working the fewest hours," Staiger said.

If health care reform is adopted, Staiger said it is unclear if the demand for doctors' time will grow or decline.

"But if, with reform, demand for physician time grows, there's going to be some challenges trying to think about how we'll satisfy that demand as physicians are working fewer hours," Staiger said.

Researchers say the decline in hours is specific to physicians and not a general trend with other occupations throughout the country.