American primary care physicians' decisions to leave their practice: evidence from the 2009 commonwealth fund survey of primary care doctors

J Prim Care Community Health. 2012 Jul 1;3(3):187-94. doi: 10.1177/2150131911425392. Epub 2012 Jan 4.


The status of the primary care workforce is a major health policy concern. It is affected not only by the specialty choices of young physicians but also by decisions of physicians to leave their practices. This study examines factors that may contribute to such decisions. We analyzed data from a 2009 Commonwealth Fund mail survey of American physicians in internal medicine, family or general practice, or pediatrics to examine characteristics associated with their plans to retire or leave their practice for other reasons in the next 5 years. Just over half (53%) of the physicians age 50 years or older and 30% of physicians between age 35 and 49 years may leave their practices for these reasons. Having such plans was associated with many factors, but the strongest predictor concerned problems regarding time spent coordinating care for their patients, possibly reflecting dissatisfaction with tasks that do not require medical expertise and are not generally paid for in fee-for-service medicine. Factors that predict plans to retire differ from those associated with plans to leave practices for other reasons. Provisions of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act that reduce the number of uninsured patients as well as innovations such as medical homes and accountable care organizations may reduce pressures that lead to attrition in the primary care workforce. Reasons why primary care physicians' decide to leave their practices deserve more attention from researchers and policy makers.

Keywords: Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act; health care reform; primary health care; private practice; workforce.