Healthcare burnout spiked during the pandemic to almost twice the rate of other industries. In fact, three in ten healthcare workers are considering leaving the profession due to the emotional drain caused by the pandemic.

While burnout among healthcare workers was a chronic condition long before the arrival of COVID-19, events of the past year served as a clear wake-up call to the pervasiveness and impact of burnout. In response, healthcare organizations are beginning to take a more holistic and preemptive approach to maintaining and improving employee wellness.

Note that healthcare burnout goes deeper than simply being tired at work. The World Health Organization recognizes burnout as an occupational phenomenon resulting from chronic workplace stress characterized by mental exhaustion, negative or cynical feelings about work, and reduced productivity.

The Impact on Patient Safety

Healthcare burnout risk starts with staff members, leaving them susceptible to becoming physically and mentally ill. Physically or mentally ill caregivers, in turn, put patients at risk.

Nurse burnout is associated with increases in patient mortality and hospital-associated infections. Physicians experiencing burnout are twice as likely to self-report a medical error. Burned-out surgeons commit more serious medical errors, and burned-out medical students are more likely to engage in dishonest clinical behaviors and alcohol abuse.

In too many cases, this creates a tragic spiral. Healthcare burnout causes safety events, which add stress to those directly involved, as well as to the broader care team. Ultimately, this leads to further burnout and additional patient-safety risks.

At the institutional level, this cycle leads to lower job satisfaction and greater employee turnover, which reduces productivity and exacerbates the already growing shortage of physicians and nurses. And staffing shortages themselves are contributing factors to increased patient safety risks.

The Impact on Finances

Improving patient safety is an obvious motivator to addressing healthcare burnout. Beyond that, though, healthcare burnout negatively impacts patient experience, which reduces patient volume as consumers choose other providers. Lower patient-satisfaction scores also can reduce reimbursement from Medicare and other payers.

The reputational risk to the organization can manifest in multiple ways, from unfavorable negotiating positions with providers, payers, and employers to reduced access to capital. A hit to reputation also can mean fewer opportunities for mergers, acquisitions, or other strategic relationships – all of which can directly impact revenue.

Addressing employee burnout can have other financial benefits as well. Disengaged employees cost organizations roughly 34% of their annual salary. The average cost to replace an employee who quits because of workplace stress is $4,129 per new hire. And if replacements aren’t hired, low staffing levels further contribute to healthcare burnout. Adding staff can actually be cheaper than the cost of low productivity and staff turnover.

Employers can mitigate these risks to productivity and retention by creating an environment that proactively identifies burnout and addresses disengagement early.

Leaders first have to be open to the fact that healthcare burnout can exist within the organization and address it honestly. Just starting the conversation about employee stress and burnout can help employees feel heard. And ensuring that the entire leadership team – not just human resources – is attuned to the issue can help foster a culture where employees feel appreciated, engaged, and that there is adequate recognition of both their contributions and their need to balance work with other life priorities.

The Role of Technology

Technology can’t create the kind of culture described above, but it can help facilitate the activities and interactions that operationalize it.

Risk reporting and staying in tune with staff needs are top ways healthcare provider organizations can boost patient safety. An organizational culture where leadership and practitioners openly discuss concerns and solutions around workload, mental health, error rates, and more, enables organizations to get ahead of larger healthcare burnout and patient-safety issues.

Coming back to patient safety, employees who report adverse events, near misses, good catches, and unsafe conditions want to know that their efforts matter and are making a difference. And this starts with making sure your reporting system is intuitive and accessible.

Great technology can provide meaningful feedback to event reporters. The best technology can aggregate data on identified issues, actions taken, and the impact of those interventions on performance improvement. It then can make that data available to everyone in the organization, from the C-suite to frontline clinicians and other employees.

Your Other EHR

Interoperability has long been the goal for clinical systems like EHRs, but that hasn’t been the case for safety, risk, compliance, and other systems.

Right now, healthcare provider organizations – hospitals or health systems, ambulatory networks, skilled nursing or pharmacy chains, and more – often have multiple separate software solutions to identify, assess, and manage various functional risk areas. This makes it extremely difficult pull together critical information necessary to react quickly and effectively to an adverse situation – or follow up with the right person in a timely manner.

Integrated risk management technology is designed to expand and improve an organization’s approach to all the risks it faces. Data on patient, visitor, and employee safety, patient experience, provider quality management, claims, litigation and insurance, regulatory compliance, and enterprise risk management can all be housed in one platform.

Software that integrates the traditionally siloed risk management function into one comprehensive solution gives leadership the ability to easily see the connections between risks – like employee productivity, staff shortages, and patient-safety events. This visibility also helps leaders better understand the causal and contributory factors to risks, as well as interdependencies, to quickly identify effective and sustainable improvements.

Integrated risk management technology is like an EHR for everything else.

Forward-thinking clinical leaders – CMOs, CNOs, and CQOs – immediately understand the value of an integrated risk management solution. And when integrated technology can reduce the cost and complexity of multiple software vendor contracts – with the concomitant reduction in third party and IT security risk – CFOs, CIOs, and CISOs begin to see the value as well.

Healthcare burnout can have far-reaching and significant consequences for patients, staff, and the organization itself. It’s in everyone’s best interests to listen, learn – and have the right technology to make it happen.

By Jim Wetekamp, CEO, Riskonnect

For more on integrated risk management for the healthcare industry, download our e-book, Integrated Risk Management: Why High-Performing Healthcare Organizations Are Taking the Leap, and learn more about Riskonnect’s healthcare industry software solution.