“Burnout is not a new issue, but has to be addressed,” said Nelson. The CEO has been in healthcare for nearly 34 years and notes that burnout was discussed in his classrooms even back in the 1980s. But now with COVID, burnout is a hot topic. Healthcare is an inherently stressful industry. “It doesn’t take a lot for there to be pressure. Drop COVID into it, and it’s suddenly talked about,” he said.
Burnout is costly, too. According to a recent study led by Chicago-based American Medical Association, the U.S. economy incurs annual excess healthcare costs of nearly $979 million due to physician turnover. Nearly $260 million of that total is attributable to burnout.
Fortunately, the Chicago area doesn’t have to worry too much about physician turnover in its largest physician groups. This year’s top 25 organizations saw a 3.2% increase in number of physicians from 2020.
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Overall, general employment in physician groups is on the rise, too. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the Chicago metro area saw an increase in employment in physician offices throughout 2021, even compared to pre-COVID times. The metro area saw a dramatic 7.85% decrease in employment from March 2020 to April 2020. As months went by, though, employment slowly grew. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that as of December 2021, there were approximately 55,500 employees in physician offices—a 2.4% increase from December 2020. This is the largest number of employees in physician offices in a decade.
For the organizations topping Crain's list of the area's physician groups, providing counseling services has been key to addressing employees’ well-being. Amita Health Medical Group, No. 11 on this year’s list with a net revenue of $299 million and 700 physicians, implemented support sessions for its staff in response to the compounding stresses from COVID, according to Olga Solares, associate vice president of communications and media relations at Amita Health.
“These anonymous sessions, initially offered several times a week, ensured the emotional needs of our physicians and staff were being addressed, given the stress and many unknowns of the pandemic. These virtual support sessions continue today,” she said in a written statement.
Northwestern Medical Group, No. 3 on this year’s list with a net revenue of $1.2 billion and 1,874 physicians, created the Physician Well-Being Program, which offers a physician-to-physician peer support network and recuperation rooms.
“The physician-to-physician network provides additional peer support services for physicians experiencing occupational and pandemic-caused stressors,” said Christopher King, chief media relations executive of Northwestern Medicine. Recuperation rooms are equipped with heated massage chairs, dimmed lighting and meditation guides. King notes these enhancements “shifted our primary lounge from a community workspace to a space for recovery and refueling.”
Duly Health & Care takes a holistic approach in addressing healthcare’s underlying issues. Nelson notes there are four tactics the group takes to tackle burnout:
- Establishing a strong platform environment for listening and honest feedback where staff can have open conversations about the topic.
- Providing real resources to support balanced efforts, such as mindfulness or nutrition-focused apps.
- Giving physicians more ammunition to help patients, such as adding 24/7 nurse triage services.
- Making sure staff and patients are safe, such as by mandating vaccines. “If our staff can’t stay healthy to save people, no one can,” said Nelson.
The group saw a 27.3% increase in net revenue, earning a total of $1.4 billion in 2021. Duly also saw a 37.3% increase in its number of physicians, employing a total of 1,020 physicians this past year—though the group’s growth is mainly attributed to purchasing South Bend Clinic in September and Quincy Medical Group in December.
As Chicago continues navigating life and business with COVID still present, Nelson contends that to get healthcare in a better place, we all must take accountability. “I do have hope,” he said. “I do have hope that a lot of smart and dedicated people are coming together to make healthcare better.”
The full Excel version of the list features 28 physician groups. The list includes 2021 net revenue, number of physicians, outpatient visits and other exclusive data. To download the full list, become a Crain’s Data Member and head over to our Data Center.
This story first appeared in our sister publication, Crain's Chicago Business.