The annual cost of physician burnout is $4.6B

Physicians are burned out, and, left unchecked, those feelings of detachment from work come with a national cost of about $4.6 billion each year, according to new research published in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

The cost is due to physician turnover and reduced clinical hours related to burnout, according to first author Shasha Han, MS, of the National University of Singapore, et al. The definition of occupational burnout has three dimensions, researchers wrote, including emotional exhaustion, feelings of cynicism and detachment from work, and a lack of a sense of personal accomplishment

In healthcare, these dimensions among physicians have an annual economic cost of turnover and reduced clinical hours of about $7,600 per employed physician each year. The numbers should prompt healthcare employers to work on reducing burnout among physicians, even with modest investments, and see substantial economic value for their organizations.

Unfortunately, the prevalence of burnout among physicians is particularly high––about half of the working population of this group experienced at least one symptom of burnout in a recent study, researchers noted. A more recent study from Mayo Clinic Proceedings found burnout was still above 40% in 2017.

Burnout can have other consequences for healthcare organizations beyond cost––patients can also take a hit, as physicians with self-reported symptoms of burnout also have higher rates of self-reported medical errors, while their patients have poorer clinical outcomes. The causes of burnout are numerous, though increased EHR documentation has been linked to rising burnout.

Still, with the high cost to healthcare organizations, it is financially worth it to tackle the issue according to study authors, who undertook a cost-consequence analysis on the economic burned of physician burnout.

In multivariate probabilistic sensitivity analyses, the researchers found the cost estimate ranged from $2.6 billion to $6.3 billion.

In their results, estimated turnover costs were higher than reduced productivity costs, and costs related to burnout were greater among younger physicians under 55 years of age. And the overall estimate is “conservative,” according to researchers.

“Using data informed by the current state of research, our conservative analyses suggest that on a national scale, a substantial economic burden is associated with physician burnout in the United States,” Han and colleagues wrote.

However, not all costs associated with burnout could be estimated, including indirect costs related to turnover. As such, further research into the economic burdens of physician burnout should be conducted that further investigate the direct impacts and causes, they noted.