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Cost of physician burnout to the US healthcare system is $4.6 billion

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Overworked and unhappy doctors are costing the US billions.

Physician burnout is costing the US $4.6 billion each year, according to a study published Tuesday in the Annals of Internal Medicine. Burnout is generally defined as long-term stress linked to your work.

The costs of burnout are related to doctors leaving health systems as well as working reduced hours, according to the study. There are about 1 million doctors in the US. The authors of the study noted that their findings suggest that there’s good reason to develop programs that reduce burnout in doctors.

More than half of doctors in the US experience burnout, a rate that’s twice as high as the average American worker, researchers previously found. That can have a lot to do with the number of patients doctors see and the amount of documentation that needs to be completed for each visit.

“It’s just created such an extraordinarily structured, regulated environment in which many, many tasks that used to be done by other members of the healthcare team fall to physicians,” Dr. Ed Ellison, the co-CEO of the Permanente Physician medical group said in a presentation on doctor burnout at CNBC’s “Healthy Returns” conference in May. Ellison wrote an accompanying editorial in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

Burnout’s a big deal across professions. The World Health Organization on Saturday added burnout to its list of medical conditions, characterizing it as “a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.”

Alleviating burnout

To avoid burnout, some doctors have turned to alternative business models.

That includes new models like direct primary care, which charges a monthly fee and doesn’t take insurance. Through direct primary care, doctors manage the healthcare of fewer patients than they might in a traditional model. That frees them up to spend more time with patients and ideally help them get healthier.

It’s a model that’s been adopted by independent doctors who would otherwise have left medicine, with insurers and even the government starting to take notes on the new approach.

Others have chosen to set their own hours by working for sites that link patients up virtually to doctors.

Even so, it’ll take more to cut through the note-taking and other tedious tasks that preoccupy doctors from primary care to acute surgery. It’s prompted some to look into at ways to alleviate how much work they do on their computers for note taking purposes by using new technology like AI voice assistants.

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