Physician burnout isn't just a problem for physicians, it's also a huge cost-driver for healthcare organizations. In this second part of a two-part series, we look at those costs, and how healthcare systems can avoid them.
Last Friday I wrote about how physician burnout is not just a problem for the individual doctor. It has an effect on the entire healthcare system. Facilities need to start realizing that physician burnout affects the entire organization. Replacing those physicians who become impaired or leave has a tremendous cost associated with it. Today, we will look at a couple more costs and what your organization can do to help remedy the problem.
There is a high risk of malpractice claims in a facility that does nothing for physician burnout. Studies have reported that burnt-out providers are not performing at their highest potential and are prone to make mistakes. Patients are going to be receiving a lower quality of care. Sure, mistakes happen—but they become much more prevalent if the physician is overwhelmed or, worse yet, self-medicating with alcohol or other substances. This must be addressed to help limit the number of malpractice claims that facilities face due to burnout.
Indirect Costs of Physician Burnout
There is also a great deal of indirect cost that can be incurred by a facility when it does nothing for physician burnout. These include:
• Decrease in how effective and efficient staff is in taking care of patients
• Patient satisfaction will drop precipitously
• Employee morale can plummet
• More mistakes can be made on all levels
• Missed work can rise meaning fewer patients can be seen in a day
• Creation of a hostile work environment as other physicians are forced to pick up the slack
• Higher turnover as other physicians will feel extra pressure to step in for their colleagues that are struggling with burnout
• Ancillary staff will suffer from the hostile work environment
There really is no doubt that this is not just an individual problem, but can be an entire facility issue.
The question you have to ask yourself as a facility administrator is what can help with physician burnout in my facility?
There are many different answers to this question depending on your facility. As with any morale buster, you need to get to the bottom of what’s causing the majority of physician burnout on an organizational level. For instance, you may find that your physicians are feeling a lack of control over patient scheduling or that they are being forced to double-book patients to meet their quotas. This inability to give an adequate level of care on their part may make them feel burnt out, but this problem can be addressed at the organizational level. See how a small change in this policy may equate to improved results. Being able to cram a larger number of appointments into a day won’t be much of a revenue producer if it is causing all the associated problems that come from burnout.
Every facility runs differently, so see what can be done to improve yours. Things that are likely to have a positive impact on physician burnout include giving your medical staff the chance to play a role in establishing their work environment, allowing the chance to engage in decisions that impact the way that they practice medicine, and have more control over their schedule.
You may not be able to prevent burnout for all of your doctors on staff, but there are those for whom small changes will decrease their stress and improve their performance. Plus, from the facility standpoint, any programs you invest in for your doctors' wellbeing make for a great recruiting tool. Attracting the best and brightest physicians to your facility is a good way to improve your medical staff and keep your star physicians from searching for greener pastures. Be sure that your organizations lets the physicians know of any of the solutions you implement in your facility. Make sure they are aware that the organization takes their health seriously.
Sometimes the facility administrator has taken all the steps possible to improve the working conditions for the physicians, but finds that there is still more that needs to be done. It may be time to invest in a coaching program from an outside source. Often, physicians are resistant to programs that are presented by human resources or by individuals that they feel do not understand the unique issues that come with being a doctor. Sometimes, it takes a person that has been in their shoes before to finally get through to a person who is either dealing with physician burnout already or are on their way to experiencing this condition. Coaching can help them adjust their career and lifestyle in a healthy way that will give them the push they need to help minimize and even eliminate physician burnout in their life.
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.