by adgrooms on June 4, 2019

A recent report in the Annals of Medicine provided an estimate of the institutional cost of physician burnout. The researchers used mathematical data from other recent studies to come up with the conservatively estimated total annual cost of $4.6 billion or $7600 per physician. The study notes that it focused on the cost of replacing physicians and lost income from unfilled positions. When we consider other organizational costs of overburdening physicians, the amount is much higher.

Inefficient systems, which contribute to burn out, are a cost unto themselves. When Physicians are required to spend more than half of their (12 hour) workday in the EHR, their training is not put to best use. The amount of available time for patient care is unnecessarily limited. What would the impact be of reclaiming just one hour for each person? Spent on patient care or spent on self-care, either would lead to a greater benefit to the individual and the organization.

Beyond this, a 12-hour workday is wearing people out to the point of error. Mistakes due to decision fatigue are another hidden cost. At the end of a long day, of course, decisions are not going to be the same quality as those at the start. Minor mistakes lead to costs in unnecessary tests and prescriptions. Major mistakes, in the case of injury, add large costs of lawsuit settlements and legal bills.

Cost-effective solutions to this include:

  • Proper delegation of tasks. e.g. If another staff member can do the task, move it to their queue.
  • Streamlined interfaces.
  • Effective automation.
  • Communication triage.

This study and others have found that a moderate investment per physician can reduce burnout. Considering the extra costs not included in the study, the potential for a large return on investment is very high. Do you see a downside?