Relationship Between Physician Burnout And The Quality And Cost Of Care For Medicare Beneficiaries Is Complex

While there have been increasing discussions about physician burnout over the past decade, little research has been done on the association of burnout and quality and costs of care. Some physicians who experience burnout report making more errors and feeling less responsibility to control healthcare costs, among other outcomes. In a new Health Affairs study, Dr. Lawrence Casalino, professor of population health sciences at Weill Cornell Medicine, and colleagues linked survey data from family physicians who self-reported burnout and were seeking to continue their certification with the American Board of Family Medicine to Medicare claims to understand how this impacts patients. 

The researchers found no significant association between self-reported burnout and measures of ambulatory care-sensitive admissions, ambulatory care-sensitive emergency department visits, readmissions, or costs. In fact, they found that physicians who report burnout may actually be able to create better outcomes for their patients. It is important to note that this does not mean that physician burnout is beneficial. 

“Burnout is a terrible thing. But our study suggests that many burned out physicians nevertheless manage to overcome their burnout and take good care of their patients,” Dr. Casalino said. “I worry less about teaching physicians resiliency and more about changing the incentives and organizational structures that, left unchanged, will continue to burn physicians out.”

This study might suggest that physicians who report at least some burnout are highly conscientious and give extra effort to providing good care to their patients. While the results are counterintuitive to the outcome the researchers imagined, they suggest further investigation is needed on the topic.

Population Health Sciences 402 E. 67th St. New York, NY 10065 Phone: (646) 962-8001