Cost of Physician Burnout to US Healthcare System = $4.6B per year - Is this useful information?

Posted by Dike Drummond MD

cost of physician burnoutPhysician Burnout may cost the US Healthcare System $4.6 Billion per  year, but does this data point help lower the stress of a single front line doctor?

 A new study out in Annals of Internal Medicine this week uses a cost-effectiveness approach to estimate the annual economic burden of physician burnout on the US Healthcare System. $4,600,000,000 per year was their estimate. The free floating anxiety in the headlines was palpable.

I just wish we could focus on useful research findings like Corey Lyon and his APEX Project ... and let's give real-world burnout prevention tools the same headlines as this fluff. 

I will classify this as an INTERESTING AND USELESS factoid.

I work directly with physicians and healthcare organizations every day to prevent burnout and am pretty sure this number is useless in my line of work. 

It is in the same category as knowing Pi to 10 digits (3.141592653) or how may toothpicks you would need to lay end-to-end to get from Milwaukee to Chicago (2,882,880).

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This highly-suspect projection has zero chance of improving the quality of life of a single front-line physician for the simplest of reasons ...

  • None of these numbers appear anywhere on the Profit & Loss Statement of a single physician employer
  • No CFO anywhere is looking at any of these pie in the sky theoretical projections
  • None of these numbers appear anywhere on the financial spreadsheets of any department inside a healthcare delivery organization
  • No CEO will see a financial reason to invest in physician wellbeing for their employed doctors as a result of these "findings"

This is a fact that is interesting, probably wildly inaccurate and completely useless to the average physician seeing patients this week.

Some Details to chew on:

The authors only looked at costs associated with two negative effects of burnout:

  • Turnover
  • Reduced work hours

A number of additional expected costs of burnout were not included in the analysis:

  • They only included lost patient care revenue, excluding any income from tests, procedures and facility fees
  • They did not include loss of patients to the organization from physician turnover or any negative effects on contracts and reimbursement from lower levels of patient satisfaction
  • They did not attempt analysis of costs of burnout from lower quality, higher error rates, malpractice cases, staff turnover and other known burnout effects on physician performance

The authors end the study with a call for more research (surprise!) and the 
"DUH Of the Day".

"Using data informed by the current state of research, our conservative analyses suggest that on a national scale , a substantial economic burden is associated with physician burnout in the United States"

... and they are only measuring the tip of the iceberg.

cost-of-physician-burnout-usa-useless-information-dike-drummond-Opt150WI am begging here ...

Please stop focusing on fantasy numbers and laser in on studies that would actually begin to address the ravages of burnout in the real human beings who provide patient care 24/7/365.

Show me research to convince a CFO that deploying resources to prevent physician burnout is a worthy investment in the organization's performance. 

Show me research that will demonstrate to C-suites across the US that employee wellbeing is just as important in healthcare as in any other industry. Together we can put an end to the Canary in a Coal Mine madness of "the patient comes first" taken to toxic extremes. 

Show me studies like the work of Corey Lyon and his APEX Project ... and let's give practical interventions like his the same headlines as this fluff. 



Do this study's findings change your day-to-day reality in a meaningful way?



Tags: Physician Burnout