In early 2010 the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, was signed into law by President Obama. Since then, 30 million previously uninsured Americans now have access to healthcare services. There is a variety of different people and organizations that Obamacare has affected, including patients, nurses, hospitals, insurers and physicians in particular. The workload and productivity of physicians has shifted as they adapt to the new regulatory environment since the law went into effect.
Balancing the Benefits with the Flaws
The healthcare industry is still in the process of sorting through the short and long-term implications of Obamacare. This legislation has allowed more Americans to have access to an affordable option for health insurance, with a large percentage of these newly insured people being young adults.
From a physician standpoint, it is exciting to see more patients getting the medical care and attention they need. Now that more Americans are regularly attending their appointments, physicians have the opportunity to catch any medical conditions or health problems early on. In the long run, this could save the patient and physician time by reducing the need for extensive medical treatments, since more conditions can be diagnosed before reaching a crisis.
Now that more Americans have access to affordable healthcare than ever before, it’s no surprise that physicians are seeing a substantial increase in their daily workload. In 2015, the Commonwealth Fund projected an average national increase of 3.8% or about 70 additional patient visits to physicians per year. This increase in amount of visits has generated more daily paperwork and unfortunately, does not always correlate with a higher compensation.
The ACA also mandates the use of Electronic Health Records (EHR) as the new form of patient files and requires existing handwritten records to be converted to electronic. While this system overall keeps patient files in the hospital or practice up-to-date, the initial investment of making the switch has been a financial strain for many physicians, especially older doctors with extensive medical records. With this system, doctors have to enter data into a computer while talking to patients and families, which could lead some patients to feel the physician’s attention is more focused on the computer screen.
Patients want to feel important and build a relationship with their doctor. These relationships could be jeopardized because of the reduced time physicians have available during the course of the day to spend with each patient. The excessive workload has had many negative effects, such as doctors not fully discussing treatment options, delaying patient admissions or discharges, unnecessary tests or procedures and poor patient satisfaction. Compounding the frustration for patients is the fact that it is now harder than ever for Americans to find a local doctor who are available to them, because several doctors are not accepting new patients while they cope with increasing demands.
Legislation Faces an Uncertain Future
The workload of physicians has changed significantly since the Affordable Care Act went into effect, which has made it highly controversial despite the positive outcomes. This act is likely to change every year, especially with changes in the healthcare and political field in years to come. Despite being signed into law several years ago, 54% of Americans opposed the act and many groups are still working to repeal Obamacare. Regardless of what the future holds, physicians still face the challenge of balancing their already busy and stressful lives with the demands of increased regulation.
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