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Clinician burnout and the risk implications

Are well trained healthcare clinicians burning out?

By Michael Faralli and Joe LaRocco | January 16, 2023

Burnout in medicine, defined as physical, emotional and mental exhaustion, has become a national epidemic.
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Are well trained healthcare clinicians burning out?

Sadly, the answer is yes! According to a survey published by the JAMA Health Forum, roughly 60% of healthcare clinicians in the United States reported feeling burned out in late 2021. Burnout in medicine, defined as physical, emotional and mental exhaustion, has become a national epidemic. COVID-19 was a significant contributor, but other leading factors include excessive workloads, dissatisfaction ith work-life balance, declining sense of personal gratification and demanding, but disengaged, healthcare organizations. This rate of dissatisfaction among highly skilled clinicians is the maximum ever recorded and reflects a significant increase from the 40% to 45% burnout rate reported in early 2020. Let’s let that sink in…in less than 24 months, self-reported clinician burnout rates increased by at least 33% and perhaps as high as 50%. That is alarming!

What else did this survey tell us?

Roughly 60% of health care clinicians in the United States reported feeling burned out in late 2021 (an increase of at least 33% and perhaps as high as 50% in less than two years)!

More than 40% of these clinicians (both nurse practitioners and physicians’ assistants) indicated their “intent to leave” among over 20,000 clinicians that responded to a survey.

In May 2022, the U.S. Surgeon General, Vivek Murthy, released an advisory warning that burnout among healthcare workers has reached “crisis levels”.

The U.S. government’s data suggests that our nation will experience a shortage of three million low-wage health care workers in the next five years and almost 140,000 fewer physicians by 2033.

Risk implications

Burnout has considerable implications for healthcare delivery. As burnout progresses, work performance is affected to the detriment of patient care, leading to:

  • Decreased quality of care, patient satisfaction, and productivity
  • Higher physician and staff turnover
  • Alcohol, drug abuse, addiction and even suicide
  • Higher major medical error rates and malpractice risk

Collectively, these create real medical liability implications. Unsatisfied patients, regardless of whether they receive sub-standard care or not, will seek recourse. With WTW’s focus on the utilization of leading analytics to help our clients predict (and advise on how to prevent) claims this is definitely an expertise and specialization where our partnership can add value.

Could the cause of this burnout also hold its remedy? Clinicians cited higher rates of burnout in chaotic workplaces with low levels of work control. Therefore, to mitigate this disturbing trend, the study’s authors recommend taking a few actions:

  • Understanding and effectively managing the clinicians’ work pace
  • Giving clinicians more control over their schedules
  • Maintaining receptive leadership teams that encourage and respond to feedback while also supporting selfcare initiatives and improved life balances among healthcare workers

Clinicians primary focus should be around taking care of patients as they have been trained and dedicated their profession to do. The Department of Health and Human Services will distribute $103 million over the next three years to 45 grant recipients to address burnout and to improve health care worker retention. These funds will also promote mental health initiatives and will support training for those clinicians working in underserved and rural communities. These government-funded grants along with careful evaluation of data reflected in this study should assist health care organizations to recognize trends and causes of burnout and to implement corrective actions needed to reduce clinician turnover.

Key takeaway

There is a moral and ethical imperative to address healthcare clinician burnout, as it has immense implications within healthcare. There is also an obvious business rationale to investments in reducing burnout — increased productivity and fewer major error rates and malpractice suits, which should ultimately lead to better outcomes and lower costs. It goes without saying, but changes should be made with the goal of achieving meaningful, long-lasting reductions in burnout. On a positive note, the goals are aligned for insurance carriers, risk managers and healthcare clinicians. And, as a leading healthcare industry broker specializing in this space, we can bring all parties to the table, drive the conversation, and impact the outcome. It all starts with strategic foresight, thoughtful intervention and industry leading knowledge, specialization and expertise.

Footnote

* Data taken from JAMA Health Forum study entitled “Trends in Clinician Burnout with Associated Mitigating and Aggravating Factors During the COVID 19 Pandemic.” Published on November 23, 2022

Disclaimer

Willis Towers Watson hopes you found the general information provided in this publication informative and helpful. The information contained herein is not intended to constitute legal or other professional advice and should not be relied upon in lieu of consultation with your own legal advisors. In the event you would like more information regarding your insurance coverage, please do not hesitate to reach out to us. In North America, Willis Towers Watson offers insurance products through licensed entities, including Willis Towers Watson Northeast, Inc. (in the United States) and Willis Canada Inc. (in Canada).

Authors

Healthcare Broking Leader, North America
WTW

Regional Placement Officer, Midwest
WTW

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