Background: Occupational burnout is more prevalent among physicians than among the general population, and physician burnout is associated with several negative clinical outcomes. However, little is known about the economic cost of this widespread issue.
Study design: Cost-consequence analysis using a novel mathematical model.
Setting: Simulated population of U.S. physicians.
Synopsis: Researchers conducted a cost-consequence analysis using a mathematical model designed to determine the financial impact of burnout – or the difference in observed cost and the theoretical cost if physicians did not experience burnout. The model used a hypothetical physician population based on a 2013 profile of U.S. physicians, a 2014 survey of physicians that assessed burnout, and preexisting literature on burnout to generate the input data for their model. The investigators focused on two outcomes: turnover and reduction in clinical hours. They found that approximately $4.6 billion per year is lost in direct cost secondary to physician burnout, with the greatest proportion coming from physician turnover. The figure ranged from $2.6 billion to $6.3 billion in multivariate sensitivity analysis. For an organization, the cost of burnout is about $7,600 per physician per year, with a range of $4,100 to $10,200. Though statistical modeling can be imprecise, and the input data were imperfect, the study was the first to examine the systemwide cost of physician burnout in the United States.
Bottom line: Along with the negative effects on physician and patient well-being, physician burnout is financially costly to the U.S. health care system and to individual organizations. Programs to reduce burnout could be both ethically and economically advantageous.
Citation: Han S et al. Estimating the attributable cost of physician burnout in the United States. Ann Intern Med. 2019;170(11):784-90.
Dr. Suojanen is a hospitalist at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, Nashville, Tenn.