Physician Health

Burnout’s mounting price tag: What it’s costing your organization

Spending a moderate amount on programs to reduce physician burnout appears to be an investment that is worth it in the long run, says new research.

Physician burnout is costing the U.S. about $4.6 billion annually when you conservatively estimate the costs related to physician turnover and reduced clinical hours, according to a new study co-written by Christine Sinsky, MD, the AMA’s vice president of professional satisfaction.

The AMA is committed to making physician burnout a thing of the past. In addition to studying the issue, the organization is addressing underlying problems causing and fueling physician burnout, including time constraints, technology and regulations.

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The models that Dr. Sinsky and her fellow researchers used to estimate costs found that anywhere from $2.6 billion to $6.3 billion is being spent annually.

Assuming the $4.6 billion estimate, burnout is costing organizations about $7,600 annually per employed physician, according to the study, “Estimating the Attributable Cost of Physician Burnout in the United States,” which was recently published in Annals of Internal Medicine.

The AMA provides tools to guide the leadership team in creating a joyful practice environment and thriving workforce in the “Creating the Organizational Foundation for Joy in Medicine” online educational module. The module is part of the AMA STEPS Forward™ open-access set of modules that offer innovative strategies allowing physicians and their staff to thrive in the new health care environment.

Adaptable model for future studies

With only a few studies ever attempting to quantify the economic magnitude of physician burnout, Dr. Sinsky and her co-authors created a model that others also can use to estimate the cost associated with burnout and it’s one that others can build upon.

The study’s authors noted that it would be valuable to focus on things such as the differences between the academic and private settings or variation across physician specialties. The methods also could be adapted to study the cost of other burnout-related outcomes, such as reduced quality of care, medical errors and malpractice lawsuits.

“Our estimates are not meant to be the last word on this subject,” the study says. “As new research sharpens our collective understanding of the effects and prevalence of burnout, our model can be reapplied with updated input parameters to reflect the new data.”

Not all costs are economic

An editorial accompanying the Annals of Internal Medicine study, “Beyond the Economics of Burnout,” says the study is a “fresh and much-needed exploration of the economic effects” of physician burnout.

Editorial author Edward M. Ellison, MD, co-CEO of the Permanente Federation and Southern California Permanente Medical Group—one of the largest consortiums of medical groups in the world—emphasized that there are “very real nonfinancial costs” to doctor burnout, including physician suicide.

“We must assess the association of physician well-being with quality, patient satisfaction, medication errors and other patient safety outcomes linked to physician well-being as we further study the economic and human impact of physician burnout,” Dr. Ellison wrote, saying that the health care community “must be generous in sharing what we learn to create change in the practice environment that better supports physicians to combat the unacceptable and tragic epidemic of burnout and suicide.”

The new CME module, “Identifying and Responding to Suicide Risk,” is enduring material and designated by the AMA for a maximum of 1 AMA PRA Category 1 Credit™. Among other things, those taking the course will learn to recognize the potential signs of potential suicide risk in colleagues.

The module, along with STEPS Forward, is part of the AMA Ed Hub™, an online platform that brings together all the high-quality CME, maintenance of certification, and educational content you need—in one place—with activities relevant to you, automated credit tracking and reporting for some states and specialty boards. Learn more about AMA CME accreditation.