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Clinician Burnout Costs the Healthcare Industry Billions of Dollars Annually

If you thought you can’t put a price tag on mental wellness, then think again.

Because burnout takes many forms and affects people differently, employers long have deemed it a back-burner issue, one that the individuals experiencing it are responsible for addressing. Recent research, however, is poised to change this mindset.

Published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, a study found physician burnout alone costs between $2.6 billion and $6.3 billion each year. The average annual cost is $4.6 billion, stemming largely from turnover, fewer clinical hours and other symptoms that can result in low-quality care and malpractice suits. The average physician costs his or her employer about $7,600 each year due to burnout.

RELATED: 8 Changes to Make at Work to Prevent Burnout as a Healthcare Provider

What’s more, this number doesn’t consider consequences of burnout that are difficult to quantify, such as reduced reputation for the facility and disruptions to patient care. Simply put, the authors say the results prove that instituting measures to reduce burnout is a worthwhile financial endeavor for healthcare employers.

Previous research has estimated that up to two-thirds of physicians experience some degree of burnout, along with almost half of nurses and 44 percent of physician assistants. (For context, these numbers are about twice the average seen in other professions.) Nursing burnout costs hospitals around $9 billion a year and the healthcare industry as a whole around $14 billion. Burnout among healthcare professionals is expected to grow as the population ages — and if the current nationwide shortages of nurses, PAs and physicians continue.

So, what industry-wide changes could result from this research?

This isn’t the first study to find that the cost of burnout in the healthcare industry is several billions of dollars, which means sweeping change likely won’t happen right away. But this is an important step to addressing both the economic and ethical implications of ignoring burnout.

RELATED: Why Newly Licensed Nurses Work Overtime, Juggle Second Jobs

According to industry experts, healthcare facilities can easily make a few, low-cost changes to promote work-life balance for employees. To start, introduce a “human-centered culture,” including:

  • Give clinicians more control over their workflow with flexible scheduling
  • Respect employees’ at-home responsibilities
  • Mandate reasonable productivity goals and appropriate job assignments
  • Institute peer-to-peer support networks
  • Educate about wellness and self-care tactics
  • Review new technologies with the clinical teams using them during their implementation (EHRs and similar advancements often create stress)
  • Promote core, patient-centered values to help employees derive meaning from their work
  • Emphasize the importance of shared decision-making

These interventions truly make a difference for patients and clinicians. Without them, the healthcare industry, including its bottom line, will continue to suffer.

Estimating the Attributable Cost of Physician Burnout in the United States, Annals of Internal Medicine.

Last updated on 10/3/19.

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