The cost of physician burnout to the U.S. economy amounts to approximately $4.6 billion annually, according to a cost-consequence analysis.
“What was interesting to me was that the magnitude of the estimated cost associated with burnout, both at an organizational level and at the national level, was quite substantial,” said Dr. Joel Goh from National University of Singapore and Harvard Business School, in Boston.
“I think that this provides both physicians and leaders of healthcare organizations another data points about the scale of the problem of physician burnout,” he told Reuters Health by email.
About 54 percent of physicians report at least one symptom of burnout, nearly twice the rate of the general U.S. working population, Dr. Goh and colleagues note in Annals of Internal Medicine. But few studies have attempted to quantify the economic impact, they add.
Dr. Goh and colleagues developed a cost-consequence model to estimate the annual burnout-attributable costs for the United States, as well as for a hypothetical 1,000-physician organization whose distribution of age and specialty segments matched the national averages.
In the base-case model, approximately $4.6 billion a year resulted from physician turnover and reduced productivity attributable to physician burnout.
In sensitivity analyses, the estimated annual burnout-attributable cost ranged from $2.2 billion to $6.7 billion depending upon odds ratios associating burnout with turnover.
At the organizational level, the annual cost attributable to burnout was an estimated $7,600 per physician, a cost which ranged from $4,100–$10,200 per physician in multivariate sensitivity analyses.
“There needs to first be a broader awareness of the problem of physician burnout,” Dr. Goh said. “We hope that our study, and others like it, will help to begin a more serious conversation on the topic. There are already some studies that have provided evidence about the efficacy of organizational-level and individual-level interventions to reduce the prevalence of burnout. Nonetheless, I believe that further (likely, multidisciplinary) research could be fruitful in finding even more effective and creative interventions.”
“The case for tackling physician burnout so far has typically been made on moral/ethical grounds,” he said. “Without in any way diminishing the importance of these moral considerations, our study provides another perspective into why burnout prevention and mitigation can be worthwhile. It can also make good business sense.”
Dr. Edward M. Ellison from The Permanente Federation and Southern California Permanente Medical Group, Pasadena, California, who wrote an accompanying editorial, told Reuters Health by email, “The drivers of burnout are multifactorial and, therefore, the solutions must be as well. It’s not appropriate to tell physicians that if they would just do a better job practicing wellness that they will be okay.”