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Financial Cost of Physician Burnout

July 11, 2019

Written by Clay Smith

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Physician (all healthcare worker) burnout is very costly to organizations, which means small investments to reduce it produce big returns financially and for clinicians’ quality of life.

Why does this matter?
We seem to be in a burnout epidemic, with over half of physicians reporting it. The way this has been dealt with in the past is to tell clinicians to make individual lifestyle changes. But more and more, it’s clear that institutional, system-wide changes have a bigger impact than telling clinicians to “suck it up” and quit whining. This paper makes the financial case for these changes, and money talks.

Burnout is costly
Using a mathematical model, the authors determined that physician turnover and reduction in clinical hours (as markers of “burnout”) costs the 4.6 billion dollars per year in the U.S., with a range on sensitivity analysis of $2.6 billion to $6.3 billion. At an organizational level, burnout related to increased turnover and reduction in clinical hours costs an estimated $7,600 per physician per year (range $6,100 – 8,700). This is a conservative estimate, looking only at two easily measured variables related to burnout among dozens. Targeted, smart spending to reduce burnout makes financial sense. And now I editorialize…burnout is multifaceted. First, this is not just a physician problem. It impacts all types of healthcare workers. Next, there are things we can do as individuals to help ourselves. But there are systemic and organizational issues that are, at least, equally important. Investments in technology to make charting easier (voice recognition, scribes, artificial intelligence that charts for you) and routine task automation are key. Also, “buying time” and allowing physicians to pursue intellectual or creative pursuits is critical to job satisfaction. What are other investments that might reduce burnout? Please discuss and comment. This matters. And now the C-suite is listening, because they see the impact on the bottom line.

Estimating the Attributable Cost of Physician Burnout in the United States. Ann Intern Med. 2019 May 28. doi: 10.7326/M18-1422. [Epub ahead of print]

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