Healthcare burnout is a well-documented phenomenon at this point. Even for those outside of the healthcare industry, there seems to be an awareness that something is affecting physicians and other clinicians, causing increased stress and negative outcomes. This is likely to raise questions about how long healthcare burnout has been an issue and how it impacts the industry as a whole. Let’s explore some answers.
What is the history of healthcare burnout?
While the phrase “healthcare burnout” has become increasingly popular in recent years, this is by no means a new concept. In fact, the first published mention of burnout was in 1974. A clinical psychologist by the name of Herbert Freudenberger described “excessive demands on energy, strength, or resources” along with symptoms like “malaise, fatigue, frustration, cynicism, and inefficacy” using the word “burnout.” By 1981, an official measurement of burnout, “The Maslach Burnout Inventory,” was introduced, measuring depersonalization, emotional exhaustion, and a diminished sense of personal accomplishment. This measurement is still in use today.
Some attribute the growth of HMOs between the mid-1980s and early 1990s, along with its pressure to be quicker with patient encounters, for an increase in burnout over that time period. Later, when EHR adoption increased with the enaction of “Meaningful Use” legislation in 2009, many providers and researchers pointed to the increase in administrative burden as a cause for burnout.
In 2013, physicians from 27 specialties were surveyed by Medscape and almost 40% of respondents reported at least one symptom of burnout, with the highest incidence of burnout reported in emergency medicine and critical care. A Mayo Clinic report in 2015 indicated that more than half of U.S. physicians experienced symptoms of burnout. Soon after, in 2016, ten CEOs of major health systems declared burnout a public health crisis. This led to 2017 when we saw work to address the burnout crisis as IHI published a plan for improving joy in work, a burnout network was launched by the National Academy of Medicine, and work hour restrictions of no more than 80 hours per week were established by ACGME.
Even so, burnout continued to increase in 2018 and in 2019 the WHO recognized burnout as a medical condition. In 2020, the very next year, the COVID-19 pandemic hit sending burnout into overdrive. We are still feeling the effects of the pandemic today, as burnout seems to be at an all-time high.
5 Ways Burnout Impacts the Healthcare Industry
Obviously burnout has a major impact on the mental health of the healthcare workers who experience it, but the effects of burnout stretch far beyond the afflicted. Here are just five of the ways burnout impacts the healthcare industry as a whole.
- Burnout reduces care access. Patients may find they’re having a harder time receiving the care they need when their care team is struggling with burnout. This can be for a number of reasons, ranging from a reduction in staff at their chosen medical practice to providers who feel disconnected in their interactions with patients and distracted during decision making, leading to inadequate care.
- Burnout increases care costs. Between potential mistakes, missed diagnoses, and the need for additional opinions, when providers are suffering with burnout it increases the cost of care for everyone. Additionally, missed diagnoses can lead to unnecessary hospitalizations, creating bills that could have been avoided for individual patients.
- Burnout reduces patient safety. This reduction in patient safety can stem from a lack of energy and motivation or impaired cognitive function among the patient’s care team. Whatever the exact cause, providers experiencing burnout are more likely to make mistakes and provide lower quality care.
- Burnout increases the provider shortage. We all know that there’s a significant provider shortage occurring in the United States right now that is only expected to get worse before we see any relief. Burnout does nothing to help this situation, as increased provider turnover due to burnout not only costs organizations a great deal of money, it also contributes to the existing physician shortage. Additionally, it increases the chances of the remaining practitioners also falling victim to burnout, creating the potential for a vicious cycles that sees more and more providers leaving the profession.
- Burnout increases costly errors. Errors in clinics and hospitals cost roughly $20 billion per year and result in nearly 100,000 deaths annually, with many of these errors resulting from burnout. These costs, both financial and in terms of human life, are astronomical and unacceptable in a developed nation, but are also hard to avoid when providers are struggling with something as powerful as burnout.
Burnout among healthcare workers has the potential to create devastating consequences for both patients and the healthcare industry, alike. While significantly reducing the occurrence and impact of burnout will likely require systemic changes, each individual healthcare organization can take steps to alleviate the burdens that lead to burnout. Providing clarity regarding expectations, prioritizing a healthy work/life balance, and implementing technological solutions to support providers in their incredibly difficult work are just a few ways that practices can help to reduce burnout for their staff.
Knowing the importance of supporting providers, Henry Schein MicroMD strives to develop and promote solutions that ease the administrative burdens that providers face, allowing them to focus more fully on patient care. From our simple, customizable, and connected MicroMD EMR to our outstanding Solutions Central partners, we are here for you as you implement technology that will help to ease burnout among your staff.
For more information or to get started with a new solution, visit micromd.com or call 1-800-624-8832.
About the author,
Crystal is a Digital Marketing Specialist at Henry Schein MicroMD. Content creation, social media management, and SEO optimization are just a few of her areas of concentration as she seeks to educate clients and prospects alike about the simple, customizable, and connected solutions we offer at MicroMD.
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