Physician burnout is more than feeling run-down. It is a serious business problem with consequences for doctors, care teams, patients and the entire healthcare ecosystem.

In fact, Accenture analysis reveals that physician burnout is estimated to cost the US healthcare system approximately $32 billion annually. This includes $18 billion in lost productivity. It accounts for the opportunity costs of replacing physicians at $5 billion. Plus, there is half a billion dollars in annual internal cost due to medical error and $8.5 billion in yearly costs to the system due to poor patient experiences.

What can healthcare leaders do to address this serious and systemic problem? It starts with thinking differently about burnout.

Physician burnout costs the US health system a staggering $32 billion each year.

A human problem, a business problem

While physician burnout is a profoundly human problem that jeopardizes physicians’ ability to practice medicine effectively, it is also a business problem. When physicians are unwell, health systems are unwell too. The consequences of burnout are far reaching, with potential impacts to:

  • Physician retention and productivity
  • Margins
  • Costs
  • Quality of care
  • Patient experience

With so much at stake, addressing physician burnout is no longer a nice-to-do for healthcare executives. It is a must-do. But human resources initiatives or wellness programs alone cannot cure physician burnout. A systemic ailment demands an integrated and holistic solution. To address physician burnout as the sweeping business challenge it is, health systems—led by the C-suite—must address it from all angles.

Everyone pays the price

As destructive as physician burnout is to doctors, it also causes serious collateral damage to care teams, administrators and patients. Members of the care team who work side-by-side with physicians may feel the brunt of burnout. Hospital administrators must maintain safe staffing levels and recruit in a market where many physicians are leaving the profession. Most importantly, trusted doctor-patient relationships weaken as patients are left with physicians who are so exhausted they have little to no compassion to offer.

The financial and human costs are an undeniable signal for healthcare executives to think differently about physician burnout. In an era of healthcare consumerism, health systems cannot afford to ignore the productivity impacts, reputational damage and negative patient experiences that physician burnout causes.

A fresh approach

To address this problem, healthcare leaders must radically change ingrained physician and institutional cultures, redesign care teams and harness health IT in new ways. Here are some fundamentals to make change happen:

Act to save the heroes from themselves

Tackle a long-standing culture of “only I can fix this,” by setting the tone of a workplace that recognizes each person’s human needs.

Re-balance the work-life balance equation

Create incentives that consider physicians’ differing needs across career stages, specialties, generations, genders and more.

Champion and cultivate team-based care models

Develop models of care where everyone on the team is working at the top of their license to support them in doing the work they were trained to do.

Make technology an opportunity, not an obstacle

Consider how health IT can simplify processes, reduce the burden of manual tasks and improve decision making. Make technology work for physicians.

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Andrew Hecker

Senior Manager

Nicole Donnachie

Strategy Manager

Lesley Levine, MD

Principal Director

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