Task force: Physician burnout costs healthcare industry up to $17B annually

Doctor pausing with a frown on his face
Physician burnout is a pervasive—and expensive—problem. (Getty/Wavebreakmedia)

Burnout isn't just a serious problem for providers. 

It's an expensive one for the health systems they work for, costing up to $1.7 billion a year in turnover among hospital-employed physicians. That's according to a paper released Wednesday from a newly formed task force of doctors aimed at changing the conversation around burnout.

The costs for burnout-related turnover may be as high $17 billion for all U.S. doctors, estimates from the National Taskforce on Humanity in Healthcare show. The task force also estimated the costs of burnout among nurses costs hospitals an additional $9 billion annually and costs $14 billion to the healthcare industry at large.

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The group was founded this month by Mission Health President and CEO Ronald Paulus, M.D. Co-founders include clinical communication platform vendor Vocera Communications Inc. Chief Medical Officer Bridget Duffy, M.D., and Institute for Healthcare Excellence President and CEO William Maples, M.D. 

Their research comes as an increasing number of organizations have committed to addressing alarming rates of burnout and depression among clinicians. Earlier this year, the National Academy of Medicine asked for comments from health systems to address the issue.

The task force pointed to studies that show at least 50% of U.S. physicians report significant symptoms of burnout and an estimated 26% of nurses reporting they are "burned out." The paper pointed out that health systems have been tied to increased costs in a number of areas, including turnover, lower reimbursement tied to patient satisfaction scores, increased errors and poorer clinical outcomes.

RELATED: Physician burnout: 1 in 5 doctors want to reduce their clinical hours

Often, research points to the value of physical activity, mindfulness or gratitude exercises. Those are helpful, but they miss the broader point, Maples told FierceHealthcare. Systemic approaches are needed to create a better environment for clinicians rather than putting the onus on individuals to address their own burnout, he said.

"It is not adequate if we don't address the system," Maples said. "How do we create a human-centered leadership to create the right environment so that the organization feels like it's a different place to work in?" 

RELATED: As burnout spreads, healthcare organizations scramble for answers

The paper includes a blueprint to emphasize approaches health system leaders can take to address environmental changes. They suggested steps such as measuring well-being before and after new technologies or process improvements are deployed to understand whether they added or eased the burden of clinical work.

They also suggested taking steps to create culture changes to encourage clinicians ability "to access positive emotions to help them recover from emotional setbacks and renew emotional resources."