May 29, 2019
Research published in Annals of Internal Medicine explained that beyond the known effect on clinical outcomes, physician burnout costs the US health care system approximately $4.6 billion a year.
Authors of the study acknowledged that while its effect on clinical outcomes can be clearly understood, the associated economic costs were rarely measured and as a result, health care decision makers are unable to properly “assess financial benefits of initiatives to remediate physician burnout."
“Physician burnout is a significant issue that has the potential to dramatically increase the cost of care to both patients and the health care delivery system,” explained the research. “It is associated with poorer overall quality of patient care, lower patient satisfaction, and malpractice lawsuits, all of which have an economic impact.”
Utilizing a mathematical model to analyze cost-consequences, researchers studied data published in research findings consisting of a simulated US physician population.
Data showed that on a national scale, approximately $4.6 billion in costs related to “physician turnover and reduced clinical hours is attributable to burnout each year” and at an organizational level, $7600 per employed physician each year.
Based on the research, authors of the study concluded that investing in strategies to reduce physician burnout may have significant economic benefits.
“Physician burnout has the potential to dramatically increase the cost of care to both patients and the health care delivery system,” according to an editorial based on the study. “Expenses related to physician staffing are a substantial driver of health care costs, and physician burnout contributes to those costs via many of the ways examined by [lead author] Han and colleagues. An unwell and unhappy workforce may result in high turnover and replacement, low-quality care, a high risk for medical errors and malpractice claims, and suboptimal patient outcomes.
“The author of an accompanying editorial from The Permanente Federation and Southern California Permanente Medical Group says this research is much-needed because practicing medicine is harder than ever,” according to a press release. “His organization is dedicated to tackling burnout through establishing a culture of health and wellness, addressing needed changes to the practice environment, delivering emotional and peer support, and providing education on wellness and self-care strategies.”
Han S, Shanafelt TD, Sinsky CA, Awad KM, Dyrbye LN, Fiscus LC, et al. Estimating the Attributable Cost of Physician Burnout in the United States. Ann Intern Med. [Epub ahead of print 28 May 2019] doi: 10.7326/M18-1422
Ellison EM. Beyond the Economics of Burnout. Ann Intern Med. [Epub ahead of print 28 May 2019] doi: 10.7326/M19-1191