Physician Burnout Affects Healthcare Facilities, Too

Physician burnout is not just something that physicians have to deal with in isolation. There is a bigger impact on the entire healthcare system.

Editor's Note: This is the first in a two-part series on how physician burnout impacts healthcare organizations. Check back next Friday for Part 2.

Many studies and efforts have been put into learning more about diseases, finding cures, and helping people live healthy lives, but the health and wellbeing of those physicians that go out into the world to heal more often than not falls by the wayside. Everyone has heard the cliché that doctors make terrible patients, and physician burnout is a real issue that needs to be addressed. Many facilities, such as your own, may be thinking that this is more an issue for physicians themselves to take care of because everyone has a responsibility for their own personal health, but this is a topic that facilities need to be concerned with due to the related costs involved. This isn’t a case of throwing good money away on bad doctors that would eventually leave your employ by either being fired or quitting. Rather, it’s about investing in your human assets just as you would new equipment.

Understanding Physician Burnout From a Facility Standpoint

A physician facing burnout from their chosen profession has a rough road ahead. They may be in a situation where they decide to quit the profession that they have dedicated a huge portion of their life to attain. They may feel that they need to self-medicate with alcohol, prescription medications, and even illegal drugs to get through the day. They might take these self-destructive behaviors a step further, and commit suicide. In fact, about 400 physicians take their own life every year; physicians are twice as likely as non-physicians to commit suicide. Those are some pretty staggering statistics for people that work in this profession.

The concept of being burned out on your profession is certainly something that individual physicians need to be aware of, but medical facilities need to sit up and take notice as well. There are facility-wide costs that can be accrued when organizations are not taking any steps towards treating and preventing burnout. These include physician replacement, lost revenue, malpractice claims, and indirect costs.

Physician Replacement

Losing a physician from a firing or a quitting standpoint may seem at first glance to be nothing that your facility can’t handle. It’s the normal price of doing business, right? You couldn’t be more wrong. Replacing a physician has a direct cost of anywhere between $150,000 and $1 million, depending on the role that the physician played in your facility. This cost includes a variety of factors:

• Recruiting cost

• Advertising

• Sign-on bonuses offered

• Moving expenses

• Training new doctor on facility policies and procedures

• Lost revenue between the previous physician leaving and the new one waiting for licensing and provider numbers

There is also an indirect cost that can be felt by the others in the facility when it comes time to fill in the gap in patient care caused by a physician leaving due to burnout. Having to step up and see even more patients is difficult for the other physicians that are left behind (not to mention the rest of the staff). This situation can lead to a chain of burnt-out physicians, which can have overwhelming complications when it comes to how your facility will go forward and the total costs that can be attributed to this staff turnover.

Lost Revenue

There is also the potential for lost revenue when it comes to physician burnout. Not only is the staff going to be reactive to the disharmony that is occurring from either high turnover or low-performing burnt-out physicians, but patients will start to notice, too. Patients and their families are very observant when it comes to the way that they are treated by the physicians in a medical facility. As online reviews become more prevalent, patients often share their experiences and there is a resulting public backlash.

Some conditions that patients may notice if physician burnout is occurring in your facility include:

• Longer wait times to get an appointment

• Longer wait times in the waiting room before an appointment

• Staff that is stressed with low morale

• The feeling that they are being sped through an appointment to get to the next patient

• A feeling that the appointment was impersonal

• Perhaps even errors or omissions on the part of the physicians

All of these factors can lead to decreased patient satisfaction. Decreased patient satisfaction has the bottom line for your facility of losing out on revenue. Patients that are unhappy with their care are going to be quick to call up their insurance company to find out what other facilities are in their network, and will replace your facility with one that they feel will be more receptive to patient needs.

Physician burnout is not just something that physicians have to deal with in isolation. There is a bigger impact on the entire healthcare system. It is time facilities do their part to address the problem and help those physicians who are struggling with burnout. Next week, I will address additional factors that affect facilities and how they can help solve the problem.

Christopher Burton, MD, is an Amazon best-selling author and founder of the physiciancoach.guru website. He is a consultant for medical practices and coaches physicians on areas of career development, leadership, communication, and finances. He serves as Chair for the Florida Medical Association’s Young Physicians’ Section and Adjunct Clinical Professor at the Florida State University College of Medicine. Connect with him on LinkedIn and Twitter.