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So Much to Do, So Little Time: Physician Capacity Constraints, 1997-2001

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Publication Date: May 2003

Publisher(s): Center for Studying Health System Change

Author(s): Sally Trude

Series: Tracking Report No. 8

Topic: Health (Physicians, nurses, and other health personnel)

Type: Report


Signs of tightened physician capacity—or physicians' ability to provide services relative to demand—appeared between 1997 and 2001, according to a study by the Center for Studying Health System Change (HSC). Patients waited longer for appointments, and more physicians reported having inadequate time with patients. Despite signs of tightened physician capacity, the supply of physicians grew modestly, the proportion of physicians working with nurse practitioners and other caregivers increased and doctors spent more time in direct patient care. This seeming contradiction emerged as the retreat from tightly managed care gave patients freedom to seek more care without substantial out-of-pocket cost increases. Current physician capacity constraints may ease if higher out-of-pocket costs prompt patients to seek less care.