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  • Study: Burnout Comes at a (Literal) Cost to Organizations

    A recent PT in Motion magazine story that looked at burnout among physical therapists (PTs) and physical therapist assistants (PTAs) highlighted the ways the condition can impact the lives of individual providers, and characterized burnout as an "area of concern" for the profession. Now a study of physicians adds another dimension to the concern: burnout also comes with a hefty price tag.

    Authors of the study were well aware of the relationship between burnout and negative clinical outcomes, decreased patient satisfaction, and medical errors. What they wanted to uncover was burnout's economic impact—particularly in terms of the ways turnover and reductions in clinical hours reduced revenue for facilities. Their estimate: about $4.6 billion annually, or $7,600 per employed physician.

    The $4.6 billion cost figure was an average. Depending on the models they used, researchers estimated burnout-attributable costs ranging from $2.2 billion to $6.7 billion annually. Likewise, the individual physician cost ranged from $3,700 to $11,000 depending on the analysis used. Estimated turnover costs tended to represent the lion's share of the expenses, exceeding the costs of reduced productivity.

    To get this snapshot, researchers used results from physician surveys and other studies on physician turnover, and combined those with studies related to the value of hours worked and the cost of physician replacement including expenses related to search, hiring, and onboarding. Results were published in the Annals of Internal Medicine (abstract only available for free).

    APTA's focus on burnout—particularly on the ways undue administrative burden contributes to it—has led to several gains for the profession, including the elimination of functional limitation reporting under Medicare, an end to the functional independence measure in inpatient rehabilitation facilities (effective October 1 of this year), and reduction in the number of required assessments in skilled nursing facilities (also effective October 1). Other contributing factors, such as student debt burden, are also being addressed by the association, which offers an online financial solutions center to boost financial literacy and offer options for loan refinancing.

    Authors of the Annals study agree that "burnout is a problem that extends beyond physicians" to other health care providers, and they urge further research to uncover the costs involved, hinting that among some policymakers, an analysis of the bottom line may be key to helping them sit up and take notice of the problem.

    "Traditionally, the case for ameliorating physician burnout has been made primarily on ethical grounds," authors write. "Our results suggest that a strong financial basis exists for organizations to invest in remediating physician burnout."

    Research-related stories featured in PT in Motion News are intended to highlight a topic of interest only and do not constitute an endorsement by APTA. For synthesized research and evidence-based practice information, visit the association's PTNow website.