DURHAM, N.C. – A family doctor’s job, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, is to diagnose illnesses and prescribe medications.

The average family doctor spends $6,600 per year.

But many family doctors don’t spend that much time on the ground.

They spend more time reading, consulting and writing their own reports.

“What we have seen is a huge shift,” says Dr. James C. Ebersole, an assistant professor at Duke University Medical School.

“We have seen an influx of highly educated professionals who are taking over the practice of family medicine.”

In 2015, a family doctor had 1.4 million members and spent $9.6 billion in revenue.

In 2017, it was up to 3.5 million and spending was up another $6.7 billion.

Family doctors have also been expanding.

More than 20% of family doctors in the U-S.

in 2017 had less than a bachelor’s degree, up from 9% in 2017, according the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Dr. Eberses study found that more than a third of family doctor members had no doctorate degree.

For doctors in his study, family doctors reported spending an average of $1,700 per person per year, a decrease from $2,400 in 2016.

According to Ebersoles findings, doctors with less than high school diplomas spent an average $637 per person.

That’s down from an average cost of $859 in 2016 and a cost of over $1.4 billion in 2015. 

Family doctors are working to better prepare their patients for their new roles.

The number of family physicians who have post-graduate training is expected to grow from 20,000 in 2015 to 35,000 by 2020, according an article in the Wall Street Journal.

Energizes the practiceAs family doctors become more engaged with patients, their ability to work collaboratively improves.

More than 70% of all family doctors have been taught by a post-doctorate clinician in the last five years, according data from the American Medical Association.

Eberses team found that as more family doctors graduate from the academy, the number of patients who are seen is expected increase, as well.

Family doctors spend less time on their patients than they did five years ago, according a report from the National Institute on Aging.

This shift is creating an opportunity for family doctors to be more effective. 

“The way to improve care is to have a more collaborative approach and more of a professional relationship,” Ebersol says.

“In my experience, it has always been very collegial and collaborative.”