Are physicians retiring early?

By Madeline Hyden
July 28, 2015
Body of Knowledge Domain(s): Operations Management, Human Resource Management


Managing retiring physicians is an ongoing issue for most healthcare organizations, as six in 10 practicing physicians say it is likely that many physicians will retire earlier than planned in the next one to three years, according to a survey from Deloitte Center for Health Solutions, New York.

The question is whether the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) has prompted physicians to retire early. According to a survey by The Physicians Foundation, Boston, 59.3% of physicians said they were less positive about the direction and future of healthcare in America after the passage of the ACA in 2010.

“From what physicians have told us, the retirements were coming regardless, but the ACA has stomped the accelerator on having them decide sooner not later that they want to retire and not have to deal with all of the challenges,” says Steve Marsh, managing partner, The Medicus Firm, Dallas.

Regardless of why physicians are retiring, practice administrators need to decide how to handle losing some of their physicians to retirement, he adds. “No matter what new regulations are in place, the shortage of physicians is something that needs to be addressed through planning and communication,” he says.

For example, one health system where Marsh worked had 25 full-time primary care searches to fill in the next three years. What is staggering is that 17 of those 25 (68%) were due to anticipated retirements, not growth. With only 8 of those positions being filled to support the growing population, that is a huge burden on this health system to recruit new physicians in a short time frame, he says. Additionally, he says, many practices have experienced another trend of younger physicians seeing fewer patients than older physicians.

“For older doctors, being a physician if much more of a lifestyle than a job,” Marsh says, which can be a problem when high-volume older physicians are quickly retiring and younger physicians want to see fewer patients to maintain more of a work-life balance and work set hours.

The recovering economy, higher stock market, healthier 401Ks and growing business might encourage physicians considering retirement to go ahead and exit, he adds. That is why he advises practice managers who anticipate a high number of physicians to retire in the next several years communicate constantly with them about retirement timelines.

The recovering economy and higher stock market, healthier 401(k)s and growing business might encourage physicians to stay at work, Marsh adds. That is why he advises MGMA members who anticipate a high number of physicians to retire in the next several years to communicate constantly with them about retirement timelines.

Once you know a retirement date, consider asking retiring physicians to work two or three days per week while you recruit new physicians.

“The more time you have, the easier it is to lessen the pain of a physician leaving,” Marsh says. “It also allows you to recruit the best new physicians possible.”

When a physician announces his or her retirement, consider these steps:

  • Review contracts and ownership agreements.
  • Create a plan for the physician’s patient records.
  • Notify patients.
  • Notify referring physicians.
  • Notify third parties, such as your malpractice insurer, state’s medical board and contracted health plans.

Some older physicians might not want to retire at all, in which case practices should create a policy for determining competency while avoiding age discrimination.

The MGMA Member Community has a multitude of threads discussing how to manage physicians nearing retirement age or those who have announced their retirement, including:

Madeline Hyden, digital editor, MGMA Corporate Communications

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