Health Care Provider Burnout Reaches New Levels

posted by Alicia Caramenico

on July 20, 2021

Health care providers have been on the front lines of the COVID-19 crisis for more than a year, and it is taking a toll. Health care is a demanding career in the best of times and burnout was a problem before the pandemic. In fact, in a late-2020 survey of 12,000 physicians, 79% reported that their feelings of burnout began before the pandemic. And a 2019 analysis in the Annals of Internal Medicine found that physician burnout costs Americans approximately $4.6 billion each year in poor clinical outcomes for patients, physician turnover, and organizational costs.

Shortages of COVID-19 tests, masks, and other supplies in the early months of the crisis overwhelmed hospitals and climbing rates of infection and the personal risk of contracting a novel and deadly virus all put tremendous strain on frontline health care workers. Today, new variants, vaccine resistance, and the potential for outbreaks are additional stressors.

In a 2020 study by Mental Health America, 93% of 1,119 surveyed health care workers reported experiencing stress. And a 2021 poll by Washington Post-Kaiser Family Foundation found that 30% of health care workers had considered leaving the field, and that a further 62% reported that “worry or stress related to COVID-19 has a negative impact on their mental health.”

“The COVID19 crisis has been incredibly stressful for everyone, and particularly so for our hardworking health care workers. Health insurance providers are finding ways to help, including providing PPE support, streamlining processes, and speeding payments, so they can do what they do best—care for patients,” said Kate Berry, Senior Vice President, Clinical Affairs and Strategic Partnerships at AHIP.

Health Insurance Providers Supporting Frontline Health Care Workers

Health insurance providers have leveraged their resources to give support to health care workers during the COVID-19 crisis. For example, they have expedited or advanced payments to help practices recover financially; simplified or eliminated some preauthorization requirements and other policies to ease administrative tasks; provided equipment and access to increase adoption of telehealth technology; and participated in vaccine distribution efforts.

Our health care system has been pushed to its limits, and health care workers have gone above and beyond to care for patients.

In June, 2021, CareOregon announced a $7.5 million investment in their behavioral health provider network. The CareOregon Emergency Behavioral Health Workforce Stabilization Fund seeks to address increased pressures on behavioral health staff due to higher caseloads, while increasing capacity and access to care for the plan’s most vulnerable members.

“We recognize that to have a strong, resilient behavioral health system, we must first cultivate a community of mental health and substance use treatment professionals who feel supported, valued, and that they have the resources they need to best serve patients,” said Jill Archer, Vice President of Behavioral Health at CareOregon.

AllWays Health Partners created a resource page for care management staff, providers, and support staff to help them address the social, financial, and behavioral difficulties the pandemic caused for their patients. Lily Kam, Medical Director at AllWays Health Partners added, “We also provided a telehealth platform to our providers at no cost to facilitate adoption and utilization. In addition to waived cost sharing for telehealth appointments, we participated in partnerships with provider groups to stand up Covid-19 testing sites in high-risk communities. To learn more visit the AllWays Health Partners provider resource page.”

Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan adapted their use of established touch points with providers to learn how best to support their practices, and to provide ongoing insight and education in the face of rapidly changing information. For example, they engaged their ongoing Physician Group Incentive Program to make sure providers had funding to put telehealth systems in place, scaling up their network from approximately a 10% telehealth adoption to 80% in a matter of weeks.

Today, COVID-19 rates are falling in the U.S., thanks to the quick development and deployment of effective vaccines. Supplies and PPE are more abundant, and our health care system has adapted. Things are looking up, and the Washington Post-Kaiser Family Foundation survey showed that 76% of health care workers reported feeling hopeful.