Discussions of physician or healthcare provider wellness are often narrowly focused on personal resilience. However, physician wellness is directly correlated to patient quality and safety. In this context, burnout results in increased frequency of medical errors, a decrease in empathy, poor communication, and poorer outcomes for patients.
Is Burnout an Extravagant Cost to Your Organization?
If your answer to this question is “I don’t know,” “maybe,” or, worst of all, “probably,” then your organization is inefficiently utilizing its limited resources, spending an unknown amount of money on a mitigatable problem. Without knowing the impact of burnout in your hospital or other medical facility, you can’t calculate the potential value to your organization of initiatives for enhancing workplace efficiency or promoting professional fulfillment.
How Big of a Problem is Healthcare Provider Burnout?
Clinician burnout is an occupational hazard. It threatens our entire healthcare system and results from many intertwined, contributing factors on national, organizational, departmental, and individual levels.1 All these factors influence patient care, efficient allocation of resources, career development, work culture, and provider well-being.2
Physician turnover costs approximately 2-3 times a physician’s salary due to vacancy, recruitment, onboarding, and loss of patient care revenue. In fact, the national average cost of replacing a physician is estimated to be $500,000.3 On a national level, the fiscal impact of physician burnout on the healthcare system is conservatively estimated to be approximately $4.6 billion annually.4 It is important to note that this estimate accounts only for physicians, whereas there are approximately 4 times as many nurses in the United States.5 The cost of replacing a nurse is estimated to be 1.3 times the nurse’s salary.6 Clearly, the total costs are extravagant.
The above information is hardly shocking in light of current data on physician wellness, as both male and female physicians’ average rates of suicide are significantly higher than of the general male and female population, respectively.7
How much is physician health and well-being of worth?
Given the complexity of burnout and the predominance of systemic-level contributions to it, preventing and mitigating burnout is a shared responsibility between the organization and the individual, with the majority of the responsibility falling on the organization.
Since each organization and department is unique, initiatives can be provided in any domain once specific areas of improvement have been identified.
The first steps in solving a problem are acknowledging and assessing the scope of the problem. Unfortunately, many healthcare organizations do not provide baseline burnout and wellness assessments of their health care providers.
Internal well-being and burnout assessments can be done at any scope (ie, on a hospital, department, and/or specific healthcare provider type level). Systemic initiatives to acknowledge and assess healthcare provider burnout enable leadership to facilitate positive change and promote a culture of wellness in the workplace.
Why is this Important?
Validated healthcare provider assessments allow for:
- Understanding of the scope of burnout
- Identification of specific areas of improvement
- Assessment of return on investment of initiatives to mitigate burnout
Each organization should internally assess healthcare provider well-being, such as professional fulfillment and burnout, with validated assessments on a regular basis. This data can be compared with data from other organizations and can be analyzed to assess the well-being of each work-unit, target specific areas of improvement, and track progress.
In addition, administration of the survey is an intervention itself. The simple act of administration and leadership acknowledging and valuing their employees is the first step toward culture change.1 In addition, many of these validated assessments provide individualized reports that can only be seen by the employees, upholding the fundamental beliefs of psychological safety and ethics. These assessments provide aggregate group data, not individual data, to leadership staff, which can then be used to address areas of improvement, make specific process improvement processes, and assess the outcomes.
Caring for caregivers is essential to high-quality patient care, especially during the pandemic. The health and well-being of medical providers must be protected to sustain our medical system. There is already a physician shortage. With this in mind, healthcare providers—physicians and all others—require adequate support during the pandemic as they risk their lives caring for patients.
Thus, the process of enhancing physician wellness and mitigating burnout is one of process improvement, necessary to ensuring high quality patient care.
Call to Action
- Assess the scope of burnout in your organization.
- Dollarize provider turnover costs to finance wellness initiatives.