Investing in physician well-being pays off, reduces burnout by 20%

Recognizing upfront costs are a barrier to healthcare organizations addressing physician burnout, a team of researchers attempted to quantify the return on investment (ROI) for programs to improve physician satisfaction.

Using a hypothetical organization that employed 450 physicians, the researchers showed a $1 million investment could save the organization $1.125 million per year in replacement costs associated with physician turnover—a 12.5 percent ROI.

They arrived at this conclusion by estimating a burnout reduction from 50 percent to 40 percent (a 20 percent reduction), thus cutting overall turnover by 0.5 percent (20 percent of the 2.5 percent turnover rate attributable to burnout). A conservative estimate of $500,000 was used to replace each physician, encompassing recruiting costs, lost revenue during the recruitment and onboarding processes and lost revenue while the new doctor gets up to speed.

And that’s just the start of the ROI, the researchers wrote in JAMA Internal Medicine.

“The same $1 million investment to reduce burnout would also be expected to pay financial dividends with respect to patient satisfaction and quality of care, all of which add to an ROI that already exceeded 12 percent due to turnover costs alone,” wrote Tait Shanafelt, MD, with Stanford University, and colleagues. “It should be noted that the $1 million/y ($2,222/physician) cost of the hypothetical intervention to reduce burnout by 10 percent in the aforementioned organization is consistent with or greater than that of multiple actual interventions that have been shown to reduce burnout.”

Considering burnout has an “infectious” nature, wrote Shanafelt et al., investing in physician well-being could translate to less burnout in other members of the care team, further improving quality of care and reducing litigation risk.

“Understanding the business case to reduce burnout and promote engagement as well as overcoming the misperception that nothing meaningful can be done are key steps for organizations to begin to take action,” the authors wrote. “Improvement is possible, investment is justified, and return on investment measurable. Addressing this issue is not only the organization’s ethical responsibility, it is also the fiscally responsible one.”