In recent years, there has been increased awareness around the causes, impact and solutions for physician burnout. In fact, according to a recent leadership survey conducted by the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM), 83% of respondents have recognized physician burnout as a major issue in their healthcare system, with only 15% of the same respondents seeing a positive outlook towards reduction in burnout over the next 2 to 3 years.
Long hours are an expectation for medical professionals, but the lack of efficiency, compounded by tedious administrative work, can contribute to a steep decline in morale, commonly known as physician burnout.
Though the study has analyzed multiple sides of the physician burnout epidemic, the statistic that most concerns me is – only 15% of respondents think burnout will decrease in the near future.
As a business leader in an adjacent industry, health tech, I’m left to wonder – how can we take bigger steps to solve this problem? This is a widespread issue that not only costs the health system financially, but it creates complacency and subpar service. What other industry would allow their biggest investment, their people, to depreciate in such a way without an aggressive strategy to correct course?
I can’t think of any.
So – why hasn’t physician burnout been properly addressed? The lack of cross-disciplinary examination is one reason. Most departments suffer from “silo syndrome”, protecting budgets and rarely communicating with peers outside of this bubble. Consequently, there is no unilateral collaboration pressuring the system to change. In other words, until recently, clinicians have adopted a “this is just how things are” mentality when it comes to documentation requirements and long hours of administrative work. However, with more physician led digital projects emerging and the physician led backlash to an EHR decision at Central Maine, we’re seeing the beginnings of change, but it can’t be left to the physicians to fix a problem that stems from institutional structure.
One widely accepted solution to burnout is to increase the amount of time clinicians spend with patients and decrease time spent on documentation and other clerical work. Still, the question remains – how do clinicians and systems accomplish this goal while still meeting the strict requirements for documentation and reimbursement regulations?
Some solutions suggested in the NEJM study include moving the clerical work from clinicians to non-medical staff such as medical scribes or technicians. While others say a focus on clinician self-care, and building a culture that supports it, will be imperative.
However, we are at a point where speculation and theories need to translate to action and a change in culture.
While continuing to read the study, one line jumped out as the potential reason for such a small percentage of respondents to believe there is hope for a solution in the near future.
“Some organizations have shared with us that they don’t have the resources to invest in better systems, workflow, and people to alleviate burnout, so it has fallen on clinicians to be more resilient”
This struck me as an egregious and tone deaf comment. Not only because it is an ethically bad practice to ask your employees to “buck up” in such a high stress situation, but because it is fiscally irresponsible. The financial impact of physician burnout is severe, costing health systems millions in lost revenue and replacing personnel.
This led me to look a little further into the cost of burnout, both the financial impact and the impact on services provided, in the same way I would assess costs in my own business.
Luckily, I didn’t have to look much further than the American Medical Association. Thanks to their Steps Forward initiative, we can delve into the cost of physician burnout, to better focus our efforts on solutions.
The American Medical Association has put together a calculator to show the cost of burnout and provide hospital systems with an ROI for intervention programs.
Here’s what I’ve learned:
The cost to replace a physician, on average, is $500,000 per physician. The national average of burnt out physicians is around 50%, and the average turnover rate due to burnout is at 7%. This means, if a hospital has 1000 physicians, and we use the national averages of 7% turnover due to burnout, you’re looking at an average cost of over $12 Million dollars per year just to replace and train new physicians. Additionally, burnout has been linked to subpar patient care, and has increased low patient satisfaction scores. This can hurt both hospital reputation and reimbursements, further impacting the health system’s bottom line.
As mentioned in the NEJM survey, the medical community believes there are two paths of intervention – one focused on encouraging physician self-care and the second is focusing on organizational changes that will take administrative burdens away from clinicians, allowing them to spend more time with patients. While both intervention paths are important, and should be implemented, at TrekIT, we believe the latter option can be achieved easily with relatively small investments in better digital tools.
If we return to the AMA calculator and the same scenario of a 1,000 physician hospital, we can see that even a modest investment of $300,000 in an intervention program can yield a positive ROI and savings above $600K.
What can you get in a major hospital for just $300,000? Better technology for clinicians. With digital tools aimed at improving clinical workflows, such as the TrekIT workflow optimization platform, physicians are getting back to patient care, reducing the hours they spend on administrative tasks, and finding joy in their work again.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned from being leader in business and technology, its that playing to your employees strengths creates a better culture, happier employees, and ultimately a more productive workplace. So, health system’s primary focus should playing to clinician’s strengths and getting them back to what they’re passionate about — patient care.
Learn more about how TrekIT is empowering physicians and promoting physician wellness.