Physician burn-out costs the US $4.6 BILLION a year, study finds
- Researchers from four institutions worked on the analysis, one of the first to assess the economic impact of burn-out
- They found that every burned-out physician costs the US $7,600 a year
- That means a total cost of $2.6 billion to 6.3 billion
Doctors are burning out – and it’s costing the US health care system around $4.6 billion a year, according to a new study.
‘Burn-out’, officially recognized as a chronic syndrome by the World Health Organization today, is associated with poorer overall quality of patient care, lower patient satisfaction, and malpractice lawsuits, all of which have an economic impact.
Researchers from four institutions worked on the analysis, one of the first to assess the economic impact of burn-out.
They found that every burned-out physician costs the US $7,600 a year, which means a total cost of $2.6 billion to 6.3 billion.
The study was publishing in one of the world’s top five journals, the Annals of Internal Medicine, along with an editorial from Edward M Ellison, CEO of Kaiser Permanente, one of the largest medical groups in the world, who hailed it as ‘valuable … overdue and important.’
Researchers from four institutions worked on the analysis, which found that every burned-out physician costs the US $7,600 a year. That means a total cost of $2.6 billion to 6.3 billion
‘I believe that Han and colleagues’ 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,’ Dr Ellison wrote.
‘This work is a valuable early step in an overdue and important conversation we need to have in the health care community.’
WHAT IS BURN-OUT?
The World Health Organization (WHO) describes burn-out as ‘chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed,’ along with three defining symptoms:
- feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion;
- increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job; and
- reduced professional efficacy
The listing in the WHO’s catalog (the ICD-11) notes that ‘burn-out refers specifically to phenomena in the occupational context and should not be applied to describe experiences in other areas of life.’
It is distinct, the authors say, from other types of adjustment disorder, disorders specifically associated with stress, anxiety or fear-related disorders, and mood disorders – all of which have their own classifications.
The researchers from the National University of Singapore, Stanford University, the Mayo Clinic, and the American Medical Association said $4.6 billion is a conservative estimate.
They found the damage could range from $2.6 billion to $6.3 billion.
But it was complicated to measure, largely because burn-out has not been officially recognized or documented.
That’s not to say there hasn’t been noise about it.
The American Medical Association has an entire page dedicated to physician burn-out, with a range of support tools – from an anecdote from a surgeon who found solace and healing through art to a comparison between specialisms.
The Mayo Clinic also has a page on job burn-out and how to handle it.
And even Anne Helen Petersen, the author of a viral story on millennials as the ‘Burnout Generation’, was stunned by the story’s success, and the flood of personal stories she was hit with.
Burn-out has touched all professions, but its impact on physicians, who have always had a uniquely grueling schedule, and now even more so, has a significant impact on the rest of us.
However, this study is one of the first to start mapping out exactly what that impact looks like.
‘Although physician burnout is associated with negative clinical and organizational outcomes, its economic costs are poorly understood,’ the researchers said in their abstract.
‘As a result, leaders in health care cannot properly assess the financial benefits of initiatives to remediate physician burnout.’