Get serious about physician burnout: Seven solutions

January 8, 2020
Physicians give seven ways besides fixing EHRs to fight burnout
President and CEO

We’ve just rung in 2020. Memories of my kids and I making Christmas cookies, decorating the tree and enjoying the snowy outdoors are still fresh. The celebratory mood of the holidays and hopefulness of a new year, a new beginning still linger in the air. There’s a wistfulness.

It’s in this spirit that I so wish the year ahead were going to be chocked-full of high-fives and pats-on-the-back at industry-gatherings like HIMSS20, AHIP and Dreamforce. You see I thought that surely by now, all of the great minds in healthcare would have figured out how to make a serious dent in epidemic levels of physician burnout.

Not so. Our survey confirmed what many already know: physicians are still miserable.

I feel confident saying more people are aware of the problem. I suspect most leaders of healthcare organizations know that too many of their physicians are burned out. Some undoubtedly understand how costly physician burnout is. 

Physician Burnout Is Costly

I strongly believe there are many reasons for healthcare organizations to get serious about alleviating physician burnout. Nonetheless, money talks, and that’s why I’m enumerating the costs of physician burnout.

Numerous studies have demonstrated that burnout is costly to doctors, their patients, hospitals and healthcare organizations:

  • Economic Costs: A study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine determined that physician burnout costs the industry between $2.6 billion and $6.3 billion annually with a baseline of about $4.6 billion due to turnover and reduced clinical hours. In other words, “each employed physician leads to about $7,600 in annual burnout costs for their facilities.”
  • Patient Safety: Research shows physician burnout doubles the odds of a patient safety incident.
  • Patient Outcomes: “With physicians who had higher depersonalization and burnout scores, their patients took longer for recovery even after you adjusted for severity of illness and other demographic factors.”
  • Patient Satisfaction: In Geneia’s 2018 survey, nearly all physicians (96 percent) reported they have personally witnessed or personally experienced negative impacts as a result of physician burnout such as cynicism (78 percent), dissatisfied patients (66 percent), severe stress (65 percent) and lower empathy for patients (64 percent.)
  • Physician Shortage: Physician dissatisfaction is likely to exacerbate the projected physician shortage. An Association of American Medical Colleges study predicts a shortage of up to nearly 122,000 physicians by 2032. Burned out physicians are more likely to leave clinical practice in advance of retirement. In fact, in Geneia’s 2019 study, 77 percent of physicians said they know a doctor who is likely to stop practicing medicine in the next five years, as a result of physician burnout.

And now some encouraging news.

Geneia’s survey showed physicians believe there is some movement toward solving the problem of physician burnout:

93 percent93 percent of physicians say there has been a marked increase in news and information about physician burnout
47 percentNearly half (47 percent) say they have seen a change in how their employer is trying to address burnout in the last two years.

Even more encouraging, physicians say there are seven ways – in addition to improving the EHR -  that healthcare organizations can improve physician satisfaction.

Seven ways employers of physicians can help restore the joy of medicine.

To me, the most surprising way is:

  • Offer professional development opportunities, not just EHR training.

Ninety percent of surveyed physicians said it’s important for employers to offer professional opportunities for physicians (43 percent said very important.) Nearly as many physicians (86 percent) agree that:

“Offering a robust professional development program is a meaningful way for employers to show they care about the satisfaction and professional advancement of their team members.”

The least surprising – and perhaps the most impactful – way is:

  • Invest in physician time-savers like scribes – the top-rated solution for relieving stress in the workplace - pre-visit planning and pre-visit lab testing, and care team huddles. These investments should allow for more physician-patient time as well as let physicians know employers prioritize clinical time.

For complete survey results, and details on the seven solutions to address physician burnout, I invite you to download the comprehensive report. More importantly, I hope you’ll join me in getting serious in 2020 about fighting physician burnout. I remain confident that the great minds of healthcare can – and will – figure out how to restore the joy of medicine.

Download the comprehensive report