The U.S. healthcare industry annually spends $979 million on turnover among primary care physicians, a new study by the American Medical Association found. Of that, $260 million, or 27%, is tied to burnout-related turnover.
Of the 11,339 primary care physicians included in the study, 3,006 left because of burnout, the study found.
"Turnover of primary care physicians is costly to public and private payers, yet there is an opportunity to decrease unnecessary healthcare expenditures by reducing burnout-related turnover," Dr. Christine Sinsky, the study's lead author and AMA vice president of professional satisfaction, said in a news release. "Physician burnout is preventable and payers, healthcare organizations and others have a vested interest in making meaningful changes to reduce physician burnout."
The AMA said changes in healthcare need to focus on physician well-being in order to reduce physician burnout and improve patient care. Burnout can lead to higher turnover, errors, lower quality care, higher malpractice claims, fewer clinical hours and greater costs for patients, the study found. For example, Medicare beneficiaries spend $189 more on specialty, urgent and emergency care during the year after they lose their primary care physician, the study estimated.
While the AMA study used pre-pandemic burnout and turnover estimates to calculate the cost of burnout and turnover on the healthcare industry, a recent survey by The Physicians Foundation found that burnout rates among physicians in general are increasing during the pandemic. Sixty-one percent of physicians reported experiencing feelings of burnout in 2021, compared to 40% in 2018. And those figures are higher among female physicians, the survey found.