The Healthcare Hub
Healthcare worker burnout and job-related stress have always been a concern for many healthcare organizations. As hospitals and other care providers continue to navigate the post-COVID environment, workforce stabilization and the well-being of their front-line caregivers continues to be top-of-mind for many healthcare leaders.
A survey conducted by Bain and Company revealed that nearly 25% of clinicians are considering leaving healthcare altogether. Nearly 89% of those clinicians that are considering leaving cited “burnout” and job-related stress as the main cause for their desire to leave the healthcare workforce early.
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Stress on the job contributes to physical, mental, and emotional fatigue - this phenomenon is often referred to as “burnout”. Burnout symptoms and causes can vary from person-to-person.
Burnout is a syndrome that includes symptoms that can show up in the form of emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and a sense of low personal accomplishment that can lead to decreased effectiveness at work. Burnout is largely a function of prolonged work-related stress.
Healthcare workers routinely operate in high-stress, fast-paced, resource-constrained environments. Constant healthcare stress exposure can lead to feelings of cynicism, detachment, and an overall sense of ineffectiveness among those responsible for providing direct patient care.
“When Medical Economics® recently asked doctors what contributed most to their feelings of burnout, 31% cited “paperwork” — more than twice the percentage of the second-leading cause, poor work-life balance.”
Medical Economics, Top challenges facing physicians in 2021
Healthcare worker burnout spans across all levels of caregivers including physicians, nurses, advanced practice providers, and others that are involved in patient care, including support staff. It is not just confined to hospitals- it is a problem throughout many different patient care settings that rely on front-line care givers to provide patient care.
Healthcare burnout is problematic for all levels of clinicians, resulting in significant challenges for health systems and patient care. In particular, turnover, along with difficulty recruiting and hiring medical staff, can present many challenges for the healthcare industry.
Health systems and hospitals are experiencing high nursing vacancy rates - as nurses leave, recruiting and hiring new nurses is becoming exceedingly difficult. Recent estimates put the nurse vacancy at 17% and the turnover rate at 27%.
Nurse burnout and attrition can create increased risk for health systems and hospitals. Some of the many issues associated with nursing shortages include:
The pressure to deliver high-quality care while navigating complex healthcare systems, managing patient expectations, and coping with the emotional impact of their work is also taking its toll on doctors.
More than half (53%) of physicians report burnout, with women significantly more impacted (63%), according to Medscape’s Physician Burnout and Depression Report 2023. The specialties most at risk of burnout were:
With U.S. physician shortages predicted to rise by as much as 37,800 to 124,000 by 2023, tackling healthcare burnout is a critical challenge for hospitals in the coming decade.
Healthcare worker burnout doesn’t just affect professionals, it can have a detrimental impact on patient care and their experiences in hospital environments. According to the U.S. Surgeon General’s office, it affects the care journey in a variety of important ways:
This was confirmed by a recent GHX survey of more than 2,000 U.S. adults. Over half of those surveyed stated that hospitals having more nurses and more support staff would help improve both the patient and visitor experience.
Nearly 50% of those surveyed stated that they would avoid going to a hospital due to concerns about adequate staffing levels. Overall workforce stabilization issues and nursing staffing challenges continue to be top-of-mind for many healthcare leaders.
Aside from the quality, safety, and patient experience issues that result from turnover linked to healthcare worker burnout, the financial impact on hospitals can be significant.
For example, a recent Becker’s article noted that the average cost of turnover for a staff nurse (RN) is $52,350 and each percentage of change in nurse turnover will cost or save the average hospital $380,000 per year.
And it's not just limited to nurses. According to Healthcare Finance News, “current annual cost estimates place burnout-related physician turnover at about $5 billion”.
Prioritizing the well-being of healthcare workers doesn’t just support job satisfaction and turnover rates, it influences the financial sustainability for health systems in a challenging labor market and macroeconomic environment.
Addressing burnout among healthcare workers is a priority for many healthcare organizations. In addition to workplace interventions, hospitals are optimizing and automating administrative processes within hospitals.
Burnout prevention strategies that have been implemented to alleviate the burden of burnout on healthcare professionals include:
Healthcare workers, including nurses and physicians, spend a significant amount of time on non-patient care activities and tasks. Overcoming burnout involves re-thinking how nurses and other caregivers do their work.
“Nearly a quarter of US national health expenditure goes toward administrative costs.”
McKinsey, The Gathering Storm: The Uncertain Future of US Healthcare (Sep 2022)
This includes focusing on reassessing the amount of low-value, non-patient care work that comprise a big part of a clinical professional’s daily workload. Outdated processes and manual workflows can rob healthcare workers of precious time – time that could be spent on direct patient care.
Healthcare providers that can automate and reduce human-dependencies relating to routine, administrative tasks will be better positioned to provide some relief to overburdened staff. Investing in and leveraging technology-enabled solutions designed to reduce human touchpoints, decrease manual daily work, and improve overall efficiency is critical to reducing the administrative burden that frustrates clinical workers.
Solutions and tactics related to reducing administrative burden include:
Leveraging data is an important aspect when it comes to reducing administrative burden. Enterprise technology investments can help healthcare organizations gain access to clean, accurate, and complete information that is synchronized across systems. In short, embracing technology-enabled solutions can lead to greater automation and improved clinical productivity.
Removing low-value work through process re-design and enhanced, technology-enabled solutions, coupled with building a robust supportive environment can go a long way when it comes to reducing burnout among nurses and other clinicians.
💡Read more: Administrative simplification: how data and automation can streamline healthcare processes
Reducing healthcare worker burnout will continue to be a top focus for healthcare organizations and their leaders – and the stakes have never been higher. Safety, quality, employee engagement, patient experience, and financial performance all stand to benefit if healthcare organizations continue to embrace proven tactics and best practices.
💡For additional information and resources related to healthcare worker burnout, view the U.S. Surgeon General’s Advisory on Building a Thriving Health Workforce.
Disclaimer: The contributor of this piece is solely responsible for its content and accuracy, and the views expressed do not necessarily reflect the opinion of GHX.