Epocrates’ “Future Physicians of America” Survey Reveals that Medical Students Embrace Patient-Centered Care

Despite personal challenges and the unknown impact of governmental regulation on the U.S. health care system, medical students are determined to make a difference in future patients' lives by capitalizing on technology and focusing on patient-centered care. The eighth annual Future Physicians of America survey conducted by Epocrates, Inc., an athenahealth company (Nasdaq:ATHN), also reveals that medical students have mixed knowledge and understanding about key health care issues.

More than 1,000 medical students, representing all 50 U.S. states, shared their opinions about topics impacting the medical profession in this survey.

Key findings include:

Patient-Centered Care is the New Norm—Patient-centered care, the involvement of patients and families in treatment and decision-making, is fully embraced by future physicians. An impressive 72 percent of medical students said they are likely to practice patient-centered care. The key to their success as physicians may lie in cultivating solid and effective physician-patient relationships that drive superior patient outcomes. Matt Emery, a second-year student at Wake Forest Medical School in Winston-Salem, N.C., believes that the dynamic of interacting with patients is changing.

"Say you have patients with type 2 diabetes. We can't force them do to what they should do, but we can find out what's preventing them from taking their medications, checking their glucose, exercising, and eating right. We need to understand what's going on in a person's life before we can hope to successfully treat them."

ACA: Both Good and Bad?—Medical students indicated the Affordable Care Act (ACA) will have both a positive and negative impact on the practice of medicine. Many anticipate that the ACA will result in practicing more preventative care (46 percent) and will offer expanded patient coverage (45 percent). However, students worry that they will have less time with patients (52 percent) and will lose clinical autonomy (34 percent).

What's an ACO?—Despite being major emerging trends in health care, medical students are still perplexed when it comes to Accountable Care Organizations (ACOs) and Meaningful Use. In 2011, 76 percent of students felt uninformed about ACOs, and two years later, they still feel they do not know enough about the topic (72 percent). Only 28 percent of students feel informed or somewhat informed about ACOs and Meaningful Use.

Notably, knowledge seems to bring more favorable opinions about ACOs' potential benefits. Of the informed students, 41 percent think ACOs will have a positive or somewhat positive effect, compared to 13 percent of the uninformed students.

Medical students entering the Digital Omnivore era—Forty-four percent of today's medical students are Digital Omnivores: defined by Epocrates as a person who uses a tablet, smartphone, and computer routinely in a professional or academic capacity. The effective use of all platforms of technology allows medical students to deliver better and more efficient patient care.

Mobility is key: Fifty-four percent of medical students currently use a tablet as part of their medical training, a staggering 31 percent increase over last year.

Worries about Financial and Information Burdens—Today's medical students noted their number one reason for choosing medicine is a desire to help people, but they have significant concerns too. Medical students worry about the high cost of education and loan burdens, the staggering volume of information to learn, and burnout; and they sacrifice family time, money, social life, and sleep. Medical schools fail to prepare students for practice management—Only 17 percent of students plan to go into solo or partnership practice.

One factor may be the lack of preparedness. Thirty-seven percent of medical students expressed dissatisfaction with the training they are receiving in practice management and ownership—business skills critical to the successful running of any health care enterprise—and 41 percent indicated they lack instruction in billing and coding.

Harrison Cotler, a third-year medical student at Rowan University in New Jersey, underscores the need for this training: "Opening up a private practice in the world of ACOs and bigger groups is equivalent to opening up a mom-and-pop shop next to a huge chain store. You can't just practice medicine anymore; you have to be business savvy too."

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