There's no place like the office for the holidays? Results of an MDLinx survey

By John Murphy, MDLinx
Published December 15, 2017

Key Takeaways

For many people around the world, the holiday season—regardless of their observance of religion—remains a time for festivity, family, and friends. For physicians? Eh, not so much. Hospitals and some practices are like 7-Eleven—their doors never close.

In this survey, more than 700 physicians of all specialties—many in private practice—sound off about time off for the holidays, how they handle patient load vs private time, and what goodies they give to their staff members.

Take time off?
Only 22.6% of practices in our survey stop seeing patients or close during the holiday week between Christmas and New Year’s Day. Most offices (59%) stay open with the exceptions of Christmas Day and New Year’s Day (although some are open for these days, too). About one in 10 doctors (10.5%) reduce their hours, while about one in 12 (8%) have another physician cover for them while they take time off.

Of those practices that shorten their hours or close, more than one-third (34.9%) shutter their doors for the full week between December 25 and January 1. Meanwhile, about one in six respondents (16.6%) said their practices close for 3 days (in addition to Christmas and New Year’s Day), while about an equal number close for just an extra day (24.6%) or 2 (24.0%).

Why close down?
The overwhelming reason (72.6%) why physicians choose to close their practices: “I want to be with family/friends or on vacation to enjoy the festivities.” A small number of physicians (14.9%) say it’s not worth staying open due to fewer appointments and higher cancellations. Some doctors (7.7%) take the time to “just relax and recharge for the year ahead,” while a few eager beavers (4.8%) “catch up on CME (continuing medical education), reading, or administrative concerns.”

Why stay open?
Why do the majority of offices remain open during the holidays? “Because people get sick every day,” answered one respondent. Indeed, most practices (62%) that remain open during Yuletide do so to accommodate as many patients as they can.

Another segment of respondents—26%—agreed with the statement: “I see no reason to close the practice—it’s a business and should be open business hours.” In addition, about one in 10 (9.4%) said they just can’t afford to close for a week, and another 3.6% said they stay open because they don’t celebrate the holidays.

Some 71% of physicians said keeping their offices open is no more or no less lucrative than the rest of the year. Then again, 22% find that being open is less lucrative, while 6.5% said it pays better than other times of the year.

Fewer appointments?
Busy patients and festive times have an impact on practices’ appointment books. Respondents said they have “fewer well visits” but “more sick calls” at this time of year. More than one-third (34%) said they have fewer appointments overall, yet nearly one-fifth (19%) report more appointments. Another one-fifth (20%) have more cancelled appointments, while over one-fourth (27%) report more last-minute or emergency appointments.

Cover for colleagues?
Doctors in practices that remain open don’t typically cover for doctors in other practices that close—44.4% agreed with that. However, another one-third (33.7%) say they cover for other physicians (either by choice or by force). “ER definitely sees more patients coming from practices that are closed,” noted one such physician.

Goodwill toward men (or at least fellow physicians) comes in the form of about 22% of respondents who said they occasionally cover another doc, “As a favor if I know them well.”

Offerings for office staff?
Goodwill toward office staff comes in the form of paid days off while the office is closed—69% of respondents said their practices do this for their staff members. Another 16.7% don’t pay staff for days when the office is closed, while 11.9% said that their paid time off depends on staff members’ jobs, and 2.4% said it depends on their length of service.

In addition, four in five practices offer some type of seasonal benefit to staff members, such as a holiday party (52.4%), a bonus (43.3%), or a gift (43.8%)—and some practices provide two or more of these benefits.

Then again, nearly 20% of practices (perhaps with a shingle that reads: “Drs. Scrooge & Marley”) give out nothing.

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