The high cost of physician burnout: $4.6B a year

Young female doctor sitting at desk in front of computer covering face with hand in frustration
Physician burnout comes with a high price tag for the healthcare industry. (Getty Images/PRImageFactory)

There’s a good reason for organizations to try to alleviate physician burnout. The problem costs the U.S. healthcare industry an estimated $4.6 billion a year because of doctor turnover and reduced clinical hours.

Although physician burnout is blamed for negative clinical and organizational outcomes, it also carries economic costs, according to a new study in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

A research team comprising members from the National University of Singapore, Stanford University, the Mayo Clinic and the American Medical Association developed a mathematical model using contemporary published research findings and industry reports to estimate burnout-associated costs.

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“On a national scale, the conservative base-case model estimates that approximately $4.6 billion in costs related to physician turnover and reduced clinical hours is attributable to burnout each year in the United States,” they concluded.

The estimate ranged from $2.6 billion to $6.3 billion in various analyses using a mathematical model. For healthcare organizations, the annual economic cost of burnout from having to replace physicians who leave the profession or work fewer hours in the clinic is approximately $7,600 per doctor each year, the researchers found.

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

Those high costs give leaders of healthcare organizations an economic incentive to invest in initiatives to remediate physician burnout, the researchers said.

Although a report earlier this year found there was a modest drop for the first time in the last six years in the number of physicians who say they suffer from burnout, 43.9% of doctors in the U.S. still exhibited at least one symptom of burnout in a 2017 survey.

In an accompanying editorial, Edward M. Ellison, M.D., of the Permanente Federation and Southern California Permanente Medical Group, in Pasadena, California, said the research is important in encouraging organizations to tackle burnout.

“As the co-CEO of one of the largest consortiums of medical groups in the world, I believe that [the] estimation of the costs of physician burnout in the United States is a fresh and much-needed exploration of the economic effects of this condition. This work is a valuable early step in an overdue and important conversation we need to have in the healthcare community,” wrote Ellison, whose organization is working to protect the health and wellness of its physicians.

 

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