HealthJune 21, 2024

How healthcare leaders can turn the burnout problem into an opportunity

Addressing burnout and clinician well-being can have financial benefits for healthcare providers.

Clinician well-being and financial health don’t have to be at odds.

If your leadership feels that improving clinician well-being means putting other institutional problems on the back burner, you might have an opportunity to address two problems at once. Technology that streamlines processes and improves the experience of frontline clinicians can reduce revenue-draining burnout while supporting both fiscal health and financial outcomes.

Prioritize clinician well-being to counter institutional fatigue

Supporting clinician well-being should be the foundation of your plan to address financial concerns.

U.S. Surgeon General Vice Admiral Vivek Murthy, MD, MBA has commented on the association between clinician burnout and decreased patient safety.  “Burnout among health workers has harmful consequences for patient care and safety, such as decreased time spent between provider and patient, increased medical errors, and hospital-acquired infections among patients. Burnout results in patients getting less time with health workers, delays in care and diagnosis, lower quality of care, medical errors, and increased disparities.”

Taking action on clinician well-being and organizational financial health

The Triple Aim in healthcare was launched to optimize health system performance via a focus on improving population health through secondary goals of enhancing the patient experience and reducing the per capita cost of care. With the recognition that physician burnout correlates with reduced treatment plan adherence and negative clinical outcomes, a fourth element was added—improving the work life of healthcare providers, creating the Quadruple Aim.

Today, improving clinician well-being is a goal across the industry, being prioritized by groups including the National Academy of Medicine and the American Hospital Association. And that’s for good reason, even from a financial perspective.

  • A 2022 burnout study found that on average, a status quo hospital spends $16,736 per nurse per year employed on burnout-attributed turnover costs. Hospitals with burnout reduction programs saw lower costs of $11,592 per nurse per year employed.
  • The 2023 NSI National Health Care Retention & RN Staffing Report found that every percentage change in registered nurse turnover costs or saves the average hospital $380,600 per year.
  • With burnout rates around 46%, costs to the U.S. health system are around $4.6 billion each year.
  • KLAS Research has found that clinicians who are dissatisfied with their EHR and who don’t feel they work with a high-quality system demonstrate significant likelihood of leaving their organization.

Angela G. German, PharmD, BCOP explains how some organizations are missing opportunities in how they address the root cause of their institutional problems. “Some organizations could improve the way they prioritize investment. They’re spending time and resources on revenue generation—financial implications as opposed to time and investment into the person and clinician well-being. But studies show that if someone feels they have the support of their direct manager, they will be more engaged at work. It’s important that clinician well-being is prioritized from the top down .” 

Streamline EHR processes to support clinician well-being

Clinician well-being is a multifaceted issue, but leadership can make significant improvements by addressing clinician experience in the EHR.

Look for opportunities to reduce duplicative work and streamline EHR workflows since redundant work can exacerbate burnout in clinicians. The American Medical Association suggests steps to tame the EHR including:

  • Simplifying documentation.
  • Launching a unified organizational strategy around EHR inbox management.
  • Optimizing information-sharing by working upstream with patients to reduce unnecessary test orders.

These steps are critical in optimizing the EHR’s inherent potential to improve patient safety and prevent medication errors. Emergency departments that use electronic medical records have been found to present lower levels of medical errors and support continuous improvement in patient safety. This type of improvement can be expanded by ensuring that clinician well-being is also prioritized through a streamlined EHR experience. A 2023 review published in the American Journal of Medical Quality found significant associations between burnout and medical errors. 

Prioritizing patient safety by way of clinician health can have direct financial rewards. The Hospital-Acquired Condition (HAC) Reduction Program is a value-based care initiative that penalizes hospitals based on performance in the area of patient safety and infections.

Angela German explains the potential in reducing redundancy in the EHR, “Involving all of the members of the multidisciplinary team to increase transparency is key to addressing duplicative work. All team members need to understand the various ways information can be accessed and documented. This is where a lot of the duplicative documentation comes into play. This is work that’s ultimately unnecessary because not all team members have access to the personalized solutions that optimize EHR navigation.”

Support your frontline workers as champions of clinician well-being

Healthcare leaders can address the institutional problem of burnout by empowering clinicians and implementing system upgrades that recruit technology as tools in supporting clinician well-being. The AMA suggests steps including:

  • Listening to clinicians at the cultural and governance level.
  • Tracking EHR usability by clinician.
  • Exploring new technologies to create positive impact for clinical users.

Angela German believes that there are options even for providers who aren’t prepared to make major investments. “While many healthcare organizations might not be able to invest in high level C-suite executives to focus on well-being, there are a lot of tools available to frontline workers to empower your employees as champions of clinician well-being.”

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