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January 11, 2023
David Burda
Economics Outcomes System Dynamics

The Booming Burnout Business

I have no doubt that burnout is real and pervasive in healthcare. It’s a big driver of the current staffing crisis in the industry, and it’s not going away anytime soon.

How can I be so sure? It’s because I’m seeing more and more companies using burnout as a hook to sell their services to hospitals, health systems, medical practices and health insurers. Companies wouldn’t use burnout as a sales tactic unless they thought it could help them sell more stuff now and for the foreseeable future.

A couple of recent examples support my point of view.

In December, WittKieffer, the executive search firm, issued a “call to action” on healthcare executive burnout. A 17-page report accompanied the call. The WiffKieffer report is based on a survey of 233 C-suite healthcare executives, including 63 CEOs  Here are some interesting tidbits from the report:

  • 74 percent of the respondents said they felt burned out within the past six months (that’s up from 60 percent in 2018 when the firm conducted a similar survey).
  • 43 percent of those who said they felt burned out said they “often” or “always” think about leaving their current position compared with 2 percent who said they didn’t feel burned out.
  • 38 percent of those who said they felt burned out said they “often” or “always” think about leaving the healthcare industry altogether compared with 2 percent who said they didn’t feel burned out.

The report concludes with seven recommendations to address the situation, including three that would be very good if you’re in the executive search business:

  • “Understand some executives may need to move on.”
  • “Build up the executive team.”
  • “Consider a broader range of executive roles.”

Another company that wants your burnout business — actually all your business — is Optum. Optum put out its own healthcare-workforce-in-crisis report in December. The 11-page report is based on a survey of 150 healthcare C-suite executives. Fifty-two percent of the execs worked at a provider organization, and 35 percent worked for a payer organization. Here are a few juicy parts from the report:

  • 66 percent of the respondents cited “growing labor costs” as their biggest business challenge, followed by an “increase in workplace errors” and “overworking current employees.”
  • 65 percent of the respondents cited “finding skilled talent” as their biggest obstacle to progress.
  • 37 percent of the respondents cited “worker exhaustion” as their biggest workforce disruption, second only to “training costs.”

Like WittKieffer, Optum concludes its report with seven recommendations, including several that just happen to have solutions in Optum’s portfolio of products and services:

  • “Reduce exhaustion and empower employees with self-serve tools that offer more workday choices and more flexible scheduling.”
  • “Improve quality by keeping staff performing at the top of their capabilities by automating routine administrative tasks such as coding, claims audits, automated diagnoses and patient scheduling.”
  • “Reduce errors with the use of digital, evidence-based decision support tools.”

I’m a capitalist, and you can’t blame WittKieffer, Optum and others for trying to convert the healthcare workforce situation into more revenue. It’s what companies do. But there’s something a little distasteful about using burnout, defined by Mayo Clinic researchers as emotional exhaustion and depersonalization, to do it.

Thanks for reading.

About the Author

David Burda

Dave Burda began covering healthcare in 1983 and hasn’t stopped since. Dave writes this monthly column “Burda on Healthcare,” contributes weekly blog posts, manages our weekly newsletter 4sight Friday, and hosts our weekly Roundup podcast. Dave believes that healthcare is a business like any other business, and customers — patients — are king. If you do what’s right for patients, good business results will follow.

Dave’s personal experiences with the healthcare system both as a patient and family caregiver have shaped his point of view. It’s also been shaped by covering the industry for 35 years as a reporter and editor. He worked at Modern Healthcare for 25 years, the last 11 as editor.

Prior to Modern Healthcare, he did stints at the American Medical Record Association (now AHIMA) and the American Hospital Association. After Modern Healthcare, he wrote a monthly column for Twin Cities Business explaining healthcare trends to a business audience, and he developed and executed content marketing plans for leading healthcare corporations as the editorial director for healthcare strategies at MSP Communications.

When he’s not reading and writing about healthcare, Dave spends his time riding the trails of DuPage County, IL, on his bike, tending his vegetable garden and daydreaming about being a lobster fisherman in Maine. He lives in Wheaton, IL, with his lovely wife of 35 years and his three children, none of whom want to be journalists or lobster fishermen.


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