Burnout’s economic toll on veterinarians calculated

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Burnout is one of the biggest challenges in the veterinary profession, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, as many clinics are currently busy more than normal, said Clinton Neill, PhD, assistant professor at Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine’s Center for Veterinary Business and Entrepreneurship.

Dr. Neill and colleagues attempted to assign a dollar value to the cost of this professional phenomenon in veterinary medicine. They found that veterinary medicine is leaving an estimated $ 1 billion dollars on the table due to burnout.

“This will give clinics and hospitals and the whole profession a chance to talk about it cohesively and make this a workable thing,” said Dr. Neill during his presentation “Economic Costs of Burnout in Veterinary Medicine” at the annual AVMA Veterinary Economic and Economic Forum, which will take place from 14.-16. October took place virtually.

“This is why it is important to think about root problems now and make changes in order to hopefully have better long-term success for the profession,” said Dr. Neill.

Calculate the cost

The World Health Organization has defined burnout as a syndrome conceptualized as a result of chronic stress in the workplace that has not been successfully managed. In detail, burnout has three dimensions:

  • Feelings of lack of energy or exhaustion.
  • Increased mental distance from your own job or negative or cynical feelings in connection with your own job.
  • Reduced professional effectiveness.

Burnout leads to actions that affect the economic health of the profession, said Dr. Neill, which affects both the supply and demand for veterinary services, whether through a drop in consumer confidence and the perceived quality of care, or through staff turnover, reduced working hours and people leaving the job. Burnout can have short- or long-term effects and potentially hinder the recruitment of future veterinarians, he added.

According to the data of the AVMA census surveys of veterinarians from 2016, 2017 and 2018, 50.2% of the respondents were classified with high burnout values. Taking other variables into account, high educational debt was associated with high burnout. Veterinarians who spent 75% or more of their time with dogs or cats had higher burnout scores than those who spent less than 25% of their time with dogs and cats. Veterinarians with more experience and higher annual income had lower burnout scores. And women had higher burnout scores than men.

Dr. Neill and his group used this data to calculate burnout rates and then examined the likelihood of fluctuation and short-time work due to burnout. The researchers took into account the cost of sales incurred through replacement costs, including job postings, training, relocation allowances and rewards, as well as lost revenue from the absence of a veterinarian to provide services or reduced hours of work.

The average total industry cost is $ 0.928-1.005 billion annually in lost revenue from veterinary burnout. That accounts for around 2.1% of total industry sales for 2020. In other words, that amount could be double that amount for the education class in 2020.

If you add the burnout of veterinary technicians, the economic losses rise to about 1.93 billion US dollars annually. Dr. Neill said: “There are a lot of technicians out there and burnout is also relatively high for them.”

The highest realized economic cost – or lost income – of burnout per vet was recorded in the mixed animal practice, while the lowest realized economic cost of burnout per veterinarian was recorded in the feed animal practice.

Getting to the bottom of the root

“If we can start solving these problems, we can generate a lot more revenue,” said Dr. Neill, adding that communication, workflow and leadership are keys to organizational interventions to reduce burnout. Examples of this are the provision of feedback and coaching as well as the recognition of high quality work.

Dr. Neill suggested the following measures to combat burnout at the practice level:

  • Hold monthly meetings to focus on professional challenges and tough issues in patient care management.
  • Improve workflow by outsourcing non-essential tasks to non-veterinary staff.
  • Eliminate bottlenecks in patient rooms for medication matching, vaccinations, and data entry.
  • Reduce time pressures with plans for future increases in attendance time for primary care.
  • Set up a new prescription phone line to save veterinarians if the practice has an on-site pharmacy or otherwise distributes groceries or flea and tick medicines.
  • Present work-life data as a platform to discuss topics within the clinic.

Dr. Neill said a practice calculator tool will be available in the near future to help determine the cost of burnout in their clinic.

Dr. Quincy Hawley, one of the Masters of Ceremonies for the AVMA Veterinary Business and Economic Forum, said, “Burnout may be real, but it doesn’t have to be a reality for you or your teammates.”