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A Premium Price to Pay: The Rising Costs of Burnout Among Clinicians

Rising Costs of Burnout Among Clinicians

“We keep focusing on resilience training and wellness when we should be focusing on plans to increase support within the health care workforce.” These are the thoughts of a physician struggling with burnout—a worsening concern among clinicians today as the world continues to navigate its way out of a global pandemic.

As one of medicine’s largest longstanding struggles, the negative effects of burnout are not only affecting the mental health of physicians, they’re impacting the financial side of health care, too.

That’s why, for the third straight year, Medical Economics has dedicated an entire issue to the Costs of Burnout—from an in-depth analysis of its scope to what can be done to help improve it.

Survey Says: The Majority of Clinicians are Suffering

According to the results of a survey conducted by Medical Economics, 94% of physicians answered “Yes” to feeling burned out from practicing medicine at any point during their career.

Of the same group surveyed, 80% stated they felt burned out “right now.” Among the largest causes for that burnout, they indicated paperwork and regulations, poor work-life balance, and electronic health records as the top three contributing factors.

Perhaps the most alarming consequence, though, is the way in which burnout has made physicians regret their career path—at least to some degree.

“At times it does not feel like I’m making the difference I originally wanted to make and I question if all this stress is worth it,” one physician noted. Another said, “It has made me feel resentful of my career choice and I steer others away from it.”

Getting Candid on Coping Mechanisms

When faced with a stressful situation—or in this case, a “Groundhog Day” scenario of stressful situations—there are both positive and negative ways for individuals to help themselves cope.

For physicians, the most frequently cited choices to deal with the stress of burnout were exercise (28%) and spending more time with family (22%). Another 8% of physicians said they offset the stress of burnout by engaging in hobbies.

On the downside, there are also unhealthy habits that physicians admitted to relying on. Eight percent admitted to eating junk food or just overeating in general, while another 3% turn to drugs or alcohol to help them get by.

The More Literal Price We Pay

While the majority of the discussion surrounding burnout is centered on a physician’s mental load, there are also serious financial side effects that stem from physicians feeling overwhelmed.

As an article by Todd Shryock in the Medical Economist burnout issue explains, the financial fallout can arise from everything from the early retirement of a physician (this has a direct effect on the employer through turnover costs and recruiting and training a replacement, he says) to the much more dangerous cost of a medical mistake performed by a physician with too much on his or her plate.

And those are just the direct costs. As Shryock says, “Having a disgruntled and burned-out physician interacting with patients and staff has its own price.”

Setting our Sights on Solutions

We’re all aware of the significant impact burnout has on the health care industry. Something that isn’t spoken of nearly as often? Solutions to help combat it. As the Medical Examiner issue states, there are small steps that physicians often take to help pull themselves out of a negative place.

Among them, the article lists:

  • Counseling
  • Sleep, reading and rest
  • Early retirement
  • Vacations/Time off
  • Video games
  • Looking for a new job
  • Complaining
  • Reducing work hours
  • Prayer/religion

Solutions like early retirement or looking for a new job are obviously extreme avenues to take, but the reality is that for many physicians, the alternative (staying put in their chosen career field) is simply too much of a price to pay for their own mental health.

In fact, the research found 18% of physician respondents say they don’t feel as though they are coping effectively with their symptoms of burnout. When directly asked what the solution is to combat physician burnout, the responses were diverse—and very telling when it comes to the overall lack of support that many physicians feel they have.

“Physicians need more autonomy,” one respondent stated. “Hospital administrators, insurance companies, and lawyers practice medicine and physicians are just the middle men.”

Another said, “Better communication and collaboration with non-clinician leaders in health care to understand why burnout happens, how to support their staff better, and allow them to be part of the solution and help shape the culture of their organizations. They need to listen to their people and then act on recommendations collectively. Physicians are not burning out in isolation.”

Though clinicians are far from burning out in isolation, they often do feel alone when it comes to dealing with the overwhelming feelings that burnout often brings. For that reason, and so many more, it’s imperative that we keep pressing forward for solutions and open dialogue surrounding this important topic.

For our essential health care workers, the costs of burnout are far too much to pay.

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Physicians Angels

More time for physicians to see more patients, provide better care, and live their lives. Physicians Angels provides one-of-a-kind EMR data management services to healthcare providers through our real time Virtual Scribe service.