September 6, 2019

What is the real cost of burnout in the healthcare workforce?

Stress is generally accepted as part of the job for healthcare workers, but burnout among care providers has a real cost for organizations – and for patients.

Jarrett Jedlicka

Jarrett is VP and Principal, Healthcare Industry Advisory at Ceridian. Leveraging his extensive experience in healthcare, Jarrett is responsible for deepening Ceridian’s penetration in the sector, working with key customers and prospects to understand their business challenges and bring forward strategic solutions to address them. Prior to joining Ceridian, Jarrett held a number of senior positions at leading healthcare and technology organizations, most recently as Principal for Healthcare at SAS Institute. 

“Burnout” is a term that’s getting a lot of buzz lately. A quick Google search brings up a sea of articles helping readers identify the early signs of burnout and prevent it with the right self-care routine. It was even recently recognized for the first time as an official medical diagnosis by WHO.

What’s surprising is that the some of the people most susceptible to burnout are the ones we turn to for help treating it – healthcare workers. More than two-thirds of U.S. physicians have experienced burnout, according to a recent survey. And while many forward-thinking companies in other industries are actively working to improve employee wellness, only 25% of the respondents to that survey said their workplaces were addressing it effectively.

So, what is the real cost of a high-stress work environment for the healthcare sector? Here are three ways burnout negatively impacts organizations and patients, and how to tackle it.

1. Higher absence rates

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), lost productivity due to absenteeism costs U.S. employers $225.8 billion annually. Given that healthcare workers have some of the highest absence rates of any industry, the financial cost of absenteeism to organizations in the sector is significant.

There are also indirect costs associated with absent workers. For one, demand for care remains high, so the rest of the workforce is forced to pick up the slack for absent employees. This dynamic creates a vicious cycle where absenteeism causes further burnout, which causes further absenteeism. Patients ultimately pay for it with longer wait times, lower quality care, and a higher likelihood of errors.

2. Increased turnover

Another major impact burnout has on the healthcare sector is higher turnover. Losing employees is expensive: the cost of turnover at one major medical center represented a loss of more than 5% of its total annual operating budget. Compounding that loss is the additional cost of overtime and hiring contract workers to fill the gap and ensure patient service doesn’t suffer.

Minimizing turnover is of critical importance due to the current – and growing – shortage of skilled healthcare workers. Historically low unemployment is creating a highly competitive labor market, and baby boomers are simultaneously retiring from the sector in large numbers and driving up demand for care as they age. The growing need for specialized skills in an increasingly technology-driven work environment also adds a layer of complexity.

3. Lower care quality

Perhaps most distressing is the relationship between burnout in healthcare providers and the quality of patient care and safety. According to the 2017 Medscape Physician Lifestyle Report, “overall physician burnout resulted in a two-fold risk of low patient-reported satisfaction.” And the ERCI Institute placed burnout in third place on its list of the 2019 Top 10 Patient Safety Concerns.

When burnout leads to lower quality patient care, it can sometimes venture into malpractice, which can come at a high financial cost to organizations. According to the 2018 Aon/ASHRM Hospital Professional Liability Benchmark Report, the projected severity of claims in 2019 is expected to be $181,000 per claim.

How technology can help reduce burnout

As the healthcare industry trends toward prevention, wellness, and personalized care for patients, attention needs to be paid to reducing stress and burnout in the workplace. While the increase in some types of technology – i.e. EHRs – is sometimes blamed for adding to practitioners’ stress, technology can also help to alleviate it.

Analytics tools can help organizations identify and understand the reasons behind turnover and uncover flight risks. Managers can use this information to streamline hiring procedures to focus on best-fit candidates, and HR teams can build data-driven strategies aimed at engaging and retaining high performers.

Some analytics tools specifically measure engagement analysis, allowing organizations to collect feedback from practitioners and identify patterns in employees’ emotional states. This gives healthcare employers insight into the factors contributing to burnout, allowing them to take action to improve working conditions.

Technology can also be used to provide a more seamless experience for healthcare workers, making it faster and easier to access information and complete simple tasks. Self-service tools can empower employees to more easily manage their time. Centralized document management systems can streamline some administrative tasks into fewer steps.

Reducing the administrative burden frees up time for healthcare practitioners to spend with patients and allows HR teams to focus on the employee experience.

What’s next?

Organizations need to make employee well-being and engagement as high a priority as patient care to successfully navigate the changing world of healthcare.

To learn more about how to address burnout and prepare your workforce for the future, read Ceridian’s guide Prescribing the Future: Building a Next-Gen Healthcare Workforce.

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