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Clinician Burnout 2021
Dec 2021

Clinician Burnout 2021

COVID-19 Increasingly Cited in Rising Burnout

Authored by:  Jacob Jeppson, 12/03/2021 | Read Time: 7 minutes

The Arch Collaborative’s first look at clinician burnout after the start of the COVID-19 pandemic revealed levels of nurse and physician burnout to be only slightly elevated. However, these numbers have continued to rise as the pandemic has trudged on and healthcare professionals have had to face challenges such as the Delta variant, vaccine reluctance and misinformation, and hostility from patients and their families. This report examines key findings regarding clinician burnout and how it is being impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Note: To measure burnout, the Arch Collaborative uses a single question from the American Medical Association (AMA) Mini Z burnout survey. The question reads:

Using your own definition of burnout, select one of the answers below:

  • I enjoy my work and have no symptoms of burnout
  • I am under stress and don’t always have as much energy as I used to, but I don’t feel burned out
  • I am definitely burning out and have one or more symptoms of burnout (e.g., emotional exhaustion)
  • The symptoms of burnout that I am experiencing won’t go away, and I think about work frustrations a lot
  • I feel completely burned out, and I am at the point where I may need to seek help

Clinicians who select any of the last three responses are counted as experiencing at least some degree of burnout.

Burnout Is on the Rise—and COVID-19 Is Increasingly Cited as a Top Contributor

All clinician types—including both physicians and nurses—are reporting higher levels of burnout than ever before. Prior to the start of the pandemic, the percentage of clinicians reporting some degree of burnout was consistently about 25%. Post-pandemic, that number has increased to approximately one-third, and a significant portion of that increase can be attributed to COVID-19. As of Q4 2021, almost 20% of clinicians who report at least some level of burnout cite COVID-19 as a top contributor.

Not only is burnout increasing, but the rate of increase has sharply accelerated in 2021. The rise of the Delta variant is likely a significant factor in this acceleration—from Q2 to Q3 2021 (as the Delta variant was ramping up), Collaborative data shows a sharp rise in the number of clinicians linking their burnout to COVID-19.

overall average burnout vs. mentions of covid-19 as a contributor to burnout

Other Top Contributors May Also Be Related to COVID-19

COVID-19 is just one of many factors that clinicians say are contributing to their burnout, but other frequently mentioned contributors are likely being magnified by the pandemic. Many other top contributors are mentioned with more frequency now than before the start of the pandemic (see chart below), and during 2021 specifically, all have increased in frequency, and the rate of increase has escalated. In the past six months, the largest changes have been reported by nurses—every contributor to burnout is now reported by a larger percentage of nurses compared to earlier in 2021.

The contributors that have seen the biggest jump in frequency since the start of the pandemic differ between physicians and nurses. Physicians are increasingly likely to attribute their burnout to a chaotic work environment, while nurses are now more likely to blame after-hours workloads than they were before COVID-19; both factors have potentially been worsened by the pandemic.

contributors to burnout change in frequency of mentions

Increase in Burnout Linked to Increase in Potential Nurse Attrition

Increased nurse burnout caused by after-hours workload is particularly worrisome as it may be tied to how likely nurses are to stay with their current organization. In general, clinician turnover is highly correlated with burnout—those who report any level of burnout are 68% less likely to say they will stay at their organization. Collaborative data shows that since the start of the pandemic, the percentage of nurses who say they are likely to leave their organization within the next two years has increased. This increase is larger than the increase observed for other clinician roles, and it has worsened even in just the last six months, increasing in that time period from about 20% to about 25%.

To read about one Collaborative organization’s unique approach to reducing clinician turnover, click here.

percent of clinicians planning to stay at current organization

Reported Contributors to Burnout Are Now More Potent Predictors of Severity of Burnout

As noted above, all reported contributors to burnout are now mentioned by a higher percentage of respondents than they were in 2020. In addition, the correlation between these contributors and the severity of a clinician’s burnout has also increased. For physicians, there are some specific contributors that are now more indicative that a specific physician is experiencing a higher degree of burnout: after-hours workload, personal control over workload, number of bureaucratic tasks, and chaotic workplace.

One notable trend among nurses is that since the pandemic began, EHR-related contributors have become less potent indicators of the severity of a nurse’s burnout. This means that much of the increase in nurse burnout is being caused by other, non-EHR-related factors. This is not surprising given that nurses have been on the front lines of the pandemic, dealing with chaotic work environments, loss of control over their work conditions, and increased workloads that spill over into their personal time.

contributors to burnout correlation r-value to more severe levels of burnout

What Is the KLAS Arch Collaborative?

The Arch Collaborative is a group of healthcare organizations committed to improving the EHR experience through standardized surveys and benchmarking. To date, over 250 healthcare organizations have surveyed their end users and over 240,000 clinicians have responded. Reports such as this one seek to synthesize the feedback from these clinicians into actionable insights that organizations can use to revolutionize patient care by unlocking the potential of the EHR. To participate in the Arch Collaborative, go to https://klasresearch.com/arch-collaborative.

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This material is copyrighted. Any organization gaining unauthorized access to this report will be liable to compensate KLAS for the full retail price. Please see the KLAS DATA USE POLICY for information regarding use of this report. © 2019 KLAS Research, LLC. All Rights Reserved. NOTE: Performance scores may change significantly when including newly interviewed provider organizations, especially when added to a smaller sample size like in emerging markets with a small number of live clients. The findings presented are not meant to be conclusive data for an entire client base.