Want to save money? Address physician burnout and cut its economic toll, authors say

Healthcare organizations can demonstrate a return on investment by addressing physician burnout. (Pixabay)

There’s another reason why healthcare organizations should invest in physician well-being: It makes fiscal sense.

In an article in JAMA Internal Medicine, the authors make the business case for why organizations should address physician burnout, pointing out its heavy economic cost.

“Although there is a strong moral and ethical case for organizations to address physician burnout, financial principles (e.g., return on investment) can also be applied to determine the economic cost of burnout and guide appropriate investment to address the problem,” write Tait Shanafelt, M.D., the first chief physician wellness officer at Stanford University, Joel Goh, Ph.D., of Harvard Business School, and Christine Sinsky, M.D., of the American Medical Association.

RELATED: Stanford Medicine targets physician burnout with physician wellness officer appointment

Physician burnout creates many costs for organizations, including staff turnover and lost revenue from decreased productivity. It also carries financial risk and threats to the organization’s long-term viability since burnout is linked to lower quality of care, decreased patient satisfaction and problems with patient safety, they write.

Healthcare organizations use this kind of evidence to justify their investments in safety and quality , and the authors recommend that they use the same kind of fiscal return to calculate investments made to reduce physician burnout.

For instance, if an organization employed 450 physicians, had an annual turnover rate of 7.5% and had typical costs of $500,000 to replace a physician, it could save more than $1 million a year by reducing burnout and decreasing its turnover rate to 5%, they argue.

One organization working to counter burnout is Novant Health, a North Carolina-based health system with more than 1,500 physicians. The health system has developed a physician-resiliency program, which offers physicians three coaching sessions to help them remember why they decided to practice medicine in the first place, according to Hospitals & Health Networks.

One result? A group of practicing physicians who participated in the program formed a team to help others optimize use of the electronic health record, according to the publication. They proactively meet with Novant Health physicians to show them how to save time and perform tasks more easily on the EHR, frequently blamed for contributing to burnout.