Physician burnout costs the U.S. health care system approximately $4.6 billion a year in physician turnover and reduced productivity, according to the results of a cost-consequence analysis.
In 2015, the burnout-attributable cost per physician was $7,600 – an estimate occupying the conservative middle ground between the $3,700 and $11,000 extremes produced by the study’s mathematical model.
“Traditionally, the case for ameliorating physician burnout has been made primarily on ethical grounds.” This study, believed to be the first to look at the system-wide costs of burnout, “provides tools to evaluate the economic dimension of this problem,” wrote Shasha Han, MS, of the National University of Singapore and her associates in Annals of Internal Medicine.
Individual burnout-attributable costs were higher for physicians in the younger age group (less than 55 years) in all three specialty categories: $7,100 versus $5,900 for those aged at least 55 years among primary care physicians, $10,800 versus $9,100 for surgical specialists, and $7,800 versus $6,100 for other specialists, the investigators reported.
The mathematical model used in the study focused on two productivity metrics related to burnout – cost associated with physician replacement and lost income from unfilled physician positions. “Estimated turnover costs were generally higher than costs of reduced productivity across all” the various segments of age and specialty, Ms. Han and associates wrote.
“Burnout is a problem that extends beyond physicians to nurses and other health care staff. Future work holistically investigating the costs associated with burnout in health care organizations would be valuable. Studies focusing on differences in burnout-attributable costs across provider segments other than the ones investigated in this study, including academic versus private settings, or across a finer segmentation of physician specialties also might be fruitful,” they wrote.
One investigator has received grants from the American Medical Association Accelerating Change in Medical Education Consortium, the Physicians Foundation, and the National Institutes of Health. Another received a startup grant from the National University of Singapore. Ms. Han said that she had no financial conflicts to disclose. All of the investigators’ disclosures are available online.
SOURCE: Han S et al. Ann Intern Med. 2019 May 28. doi: 10.7326/M18-1422.