In case you missed it: Physician burnout costs up to $17B a year, task force says

April 30, 2018
Area(s) of Interest: Physician Wellness Professional Development & Education 

In Brief

  • Physician burnout is taking a huge financial toll on hospitals and health systems — to the tune of $1.7 billion a year among doctors employed at hospitals, according to the National Taskforce for Humanity in Healthcare, which launched earlier this month.
  • When burnout-related turnover among all U.S. physicians is considered, the costs could be as high as $17 billion, according to a paper released by the group, which is made up of doctors, nurses and other health care groups.
  • Nurse burnout compounds the problem, annually sapping $9 billion from hospitals and $14 billion from the health care industry overall.

That burnout is a big problem is well known. In a recent Medscape survey, nearly two-thirds of U.S. doctors said they felt burned out, depressed or both. More troubling still, one-third of respondents said such feelings affected their relations with patients. In another study, one in five doctors reported they’ll reduce clinical hours over the next two years, while one in 50 said they plan to quit medicine for a different career.

According to the task force, burnout results in higher turnover and error rates, as well as poorer outcomes and patient satisfaction leading to lower payments for services.

The paper suggests organizations create a “human-centered” culture and query clinical teams before and after deploying new technologies to see if they eased or increased their workload.

The challenge comes as the U.S. faces a potential doctor shortage in the coming decade. A recent analysis by the Association of American Medical Colleges projects the shortage will reach 121,300 by 2030. Major shortfalls are projected in non-primary care specialties, surgery and psychiatry.

Some organizations are appointing chief wellness officers (CWO) to address these and other workplace issues. For example, the CWO at Southern California Permanente Medical Group (SCPMG) has spearheaded flexible work schedules and peer-to-peer support. Specified teams help physicians prioritize administrative tasks and hand off clerical work when possible.

“You have to take a very holistic approach,” Edward Ellison, M.D., executive medical director and chairman of SCPMG, told Healthcare Dive in an interview earlier this year. “It starts with culture, but it’s also about the practical, tactical time in your day.”

Others, including Cleveland Clinic, also employ CWOs. And the trend is growing. Last summer, Stanford Medicine became the first academic medical center in the U.S. to designate a CWO.

This report further substantiates recommendations made by the University of California, San Francisco report that California should develop a comprehensive strategy to overcome the market forces that discourage physicians and other clinicians from practicing in underserved areas. The report highlights that any successful path to universal health care must include measures to improve access to care addressing the issues of physician workforce.

Below are some highlighted quotations of the report:

  • “Administrative burdens have increased with the growing availability of electronic health records and is a source for frustration for patients as well as providers.” (Page 14)
  • “Even if California were to expand health plan competition through a public option in the individual market, additional steps would be needed to overcome physician workforce shortages in underserved areas.” (Page 23)
  • “To overcome workforce shortages California needs a comprehensive strategy, utilizing incentives to overcome the market forces that discourage physicians and other clinicians from specializing in primary care and practicing in underserved areas. Such an approach could include incentives (1) to ensure that the physician training pipeline includes individuals who are interested and prepared for these roles, (2) to reduce the financial and practice barriers for individuals to enter in these roles, and (3) through physician payment policies which can sustain them in these roles over time.” (Page 23)


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