BACKGROUND: Physicians play a primary role in patients' health. Heavy workloads can threaten the health of physicians and their patients. This study examined workload changes among physicians in Chinese health institutions from 1998⁻2016. METHODS: This study examined data from the online China Statistical Yearbook of 1999⁻2017, which is released annually by the National Bureau of Statistics of the People's Republic of China. Three relevant and available indicators were retrieved: (1) number of physicians, (2) number of patient visits and (3) number of inpatient admissions. Patient visits per physician and inpatient admissions per physician from 1998⁻2016 were calculated to approximate physician workloads in Chinese health institutions. RESULTS: Between 1998 and 2016, patient visits per physician in China increased by 135% and inpatient admissions per physician rose by 184%. Both indicators demonstrate a stabilizing trend in the most recent five years, including a slight decrease (7%) in patient visits per physician since 2012. CONCLUSIONS: Physician workload increased dramatically for Chinese physicians from 1998⁻2016, a trend that could potentially threaten physicians' health and the quality of patient care. The findings highlight the importance of interventions and efforts to relieve physician workloads in China.