A survey conducted among doctors trying to cope with COVID-19 found that specialists are putting in longer hours but are not always getting compensated for the extra work.
About 31% of respondents reported increased work hours as a stressor to their job, and among these participants almost all said that the additional work hours were completely or partially uncompensated, said Greer Burkholder, MD, of the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB).
“This study would indicate that doctors are working harder than ever and mostly not being compensated for it,” Burkholder said in a presentation at the virtual IDWeek. “Much of this work is uncompensated due to the economic impact of the pandemic on the healthcare system.”
Hardest hit by the economics of job loss, furloughs, or working longer hours without compensation were emergency medicine physicians – 70% of whom reported in the survey that they had suffered negative economic impact from dealing with the pandemic.
About 63% of anesthesiologists reported negative economic impacts, possibly due to reduced elective surgeries due to bed space being occupied by COVID-19 patients. About 60% of surgeons also said they had suffered economically, as did about 25% of infectious disease specialists.
In addition to resulting in physicians working longer hours, the pandemic made it necessary for doctors – especially infectious disease specialists — to take on new tasks, the survey showed.
About 36% of the clinicians who responded said they had new tasks added to their job responsibilities, most frequently taking on an advisory role in their institution regarding how to respond to the pandemic. This added advisory role was cited by 49.1% of the respondents, and 28.8% also were involved as an investigator in COVID-19-related research as one of their new duties, Burkholder reported.
For the late-breaking study, she and her colleagues surveyed physicians to evaluate the economic impacts of COVID-19, such as job loss, increased work hours, and the compensation for the increased work hours and new roles and responsibilities.
The national web-based 31-item anonymous survey was developed at UAB and distributed via physician professional and social networks including email, Facebook groups, and #MedicalTwitter from May 14 to July 31, 2020, Burkholder said, adding that five items from the survey were used to inform the current study.
There were 597 respondents to the survey, and 78.1% were women. About half of respondents were age 40 or older, 71.7% were white, 14.9% were of Asian ethnicity, and more than half were from the southern United States.
About 49% of the doctors who responded worked in community hospitals, 44% worked in academic institutions, and 3.8% worked in federal facilities. In the month prior to filling out the questionnaire, 57.4% of the respondents said they had been in direct contact with patients diagnosed with COVID-19.
The researchers received responses from 46 states and the District of Columbia, Burkholder noted. “This study provides insights into topics on which there is a dearth of information in the medical literature,” she added.
She said the researchers used “snowball” techniques to reach more respondents — i.e., asking those who received the email request to forward it to a colleague.
However, the respondents tended to be younger, more white, and more female than the general makeup of physicians in the United States, which might limit the generalizability of the results, Burkholder said.
Amy Kressel, MD, of Indiana University School of Medicine in Indianapolis, commented that the study probably missed physicians who were so busy they couldn’t even use social media, and that critical care physicians and hospitalists also likely had an increased work load.