Physician burnout costs $4.6 billion each year
Physician turnover and reduced clinical hours attributed to physician burnout create approximately $4.6 billion in costs in the United States each year, according to a recent study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine.
At an organization level, the study showed the annual economic cost of burnout to be about $7,600 per employed physician.
“Despite the recent public interest in this subject and literature suggesting that burnout has the potential to be a major problem, only a few studies have attempted to quantify its economic magnitude in the form of easily understandable metrics,” Shasha Han, MS, of the National University of Singapore, and colleagues wrote. “As a result, policymakers cannot holistically assess the extent of the burnout problem and develop appropriate policy responses, nor are leaders of health care organizations equipped to make informed decisions when determining whether to invest scarce resources into programs to mitigate burnout.”
To estimate the cost of physician burnout, researchers conducted a cost-consequence analysis based on a model of a hypothetical population of U.S. physicians. The model comprised two age groups (<55 years and 55 years) and three specialty groups (PCPs, surgical specialties, and other specialties). Investigators based segments sizes on the distribution of U.S. physicians in the 2013 American Medical Association Physician Master File. They also used the model to create a hypothetical 1,000-physician organization to evaluate the cost of loss of clinical hours and physician turnover at an organizational level.
Researchers focused on turnover and reduction of clinical hours. The primary outcome was cost caused by burnout, or the difference in costs in physicians who were burned out compared with those who were not burned out.
To determine the prevalence of burnout, the model used results from a 2014 national survey of 6,880 physicians that evaluated individual levels of burnout and short-term career plans.
Using the conservative-based case model, researchers estimated that physician turnover and reduced clinical hours caused by physician burnout created $4.6 billion in costs in the U.S. each year. Multivariant probabilistic sensitivity analyses revealed that the estimate ranged from $2.6 billion to $6.3 billion.
“Traditionally, the case for ameliorating physician burnout has been made primarily on ethical grounds,” Han and colleagues wrote. “Our study provides tools to evaluate the economic dimension of this problem. Together with previous evidence that burnout can be reduced effectively with moderate levels of investment, our results suggest that a strong financial basis exists for organizations to invest in remediating physician burnout.” – by Erin Michael
Disclosures: Han reports no relevant financial disclosures. Please see the full study for all other authors’ relevant financial disclosures.