How Value-Based Care Prevents Physician Burnout

By Larissa Long Jun 30, 2023
Provider burnout, leading causes of physician burnout, how to prevent physician burnout, burnout

Medicine is the most noble of professions. Providers enter healthcare with the greatest of intentions—to keep people healthy, to save lives, to serve as a beacon of hope when patients have lost theirs. But this job, while incredibly fulfilling, does not come without drawbacks. 

If you’re a healthcare provider and you have not experienced burnout, you’re sadly in the minority. A recent Medscape survey showed that 53% of all physicians have dealt with burnout, up from 46% in 2015 and 39.8% in 2013 

By specialty, emergency medicine had the highest rate of burnout (65%) followed by internal medicine (60%). Family medicine came in at a 57% burnout rate. 

Physician burnout presents a variety of symptoms, most commonly: 

  • Lack of motivation 
  • Insomnia 
  • Physical and mental exhaustion 
  • Emotional detachment/cynicism 
  • Depression/suicidal ideation 
  • Decreased quality of care 

The rising prevalence of burnout has wide-ranging implications on patient safety and access to care. Burned out providers tend to retire early or change career paths. This not only affects patient access and continuity of care but worsens the escalating physician shortage crisis. Some data estimate the US can expect a shortage of up to 139,000 physicians by 2033. 

Exhaustion and indifference also increase the risk of mistakes. According to one study, providers who suffered burnout were twice as likely to have made a medical error in the previous three months.   

Unfortunately, burnout doesn’t just plague physicians. All healthcare workers face mounting demands and little downtime, making them just as vulnerable. It’s not unusual for burnout to trickle down from physicians to nurses, physician assistants, and staff members like office managers. 

Leading Causes of Physician Burnout 

Many of the pressures in healthcare that contribute to physician burnout can be attributed to the fee-for-service payment model, where revenue is dependent on the volume of care provided. 

In fact, this revenue model is a major underlying factor for what most providers claim to be the top causes of burnout: 

  • High volume of bureaucratic demands 
  • Poor work/life balance 
  • Insufficient pay or declining reimbursements 
  • Lack of respect from colleagues
  • Electronic health records (EHRs) 

What do providers wish for in order to lessen burnout? According to the same Medscape survey: 

  • Increased compensation/higher reimbursements
  • More manageable work schedules 
  • More office staff 
  • Lighter patient loads 

How to Prevent Physician Burnout through Value-Based Care 

Shifting to value-based care (VBC) is a smart first step to alleviating burnout. Providers often find that the guiding principles of VBC help mitigate many of the issues that lead to provider burnout. 

Most notably, VBC allows providers to get back to the basics of medicine and why they chose this profession in the first place: the ability to make a real difference in patients’ lives.  

“Value-based care centers on disease prevention and holistic care, which aligns with the goals and values of most providers, especially those in primary care,” says Vik Bakhru, MD, MBA, practicing physician and the president and CEO of Innovista Health. “When given the opportunity to practice medicine in its purest form, physicians thrive and their risk of burnout due to administrative and other burdens goes down.”  

Because VBC prioritizes quality of care over quantity of patients seen, providers are able to devote more time to each patient, offering much more meaningful, comprehensive care. They’re able to more deeply connect with patients and learn not just about their physical health but mental, emotional, and lifestyle challenges that influence their wellbeing and choices. All that knowledge strengthens the provider/patient bond and personalizes the healthcare experience, which increases satisfaction all around. 

Lighter patient load leads to more manageable work schedules and better work/life balance for everyone in the practice. And focusing on meeting quality metrics—a key component of VBC—results in higher compensation for physicians. 

VBC also encourages practice transformation. This allows for better workflows and delegation of tasks so that everyone in the office can feel less overwhelmed.   

Of course, technology plays a role in practice transformation—but physicians pinpoint technology as a big source of burnout. Even though EHRs are meant to improve quality and coordination of care, reduce errors, and streamline workflows by cutting down on paperwork, many physicians still find them to be cumbersome and time consuming. Documentation requirements have grown over the years, forcing providers to spend a lot more time in EHRs than they would like. 

To be fair, technology can be challenging to implement and learn. But in a VBC landscape, the goal is to leverage technology to make the job easier and actually prevent burnout. Innovista Health helps practices integrate technology more efficiently so they can use it to their advantage versus getting overwhelmed by it.  

Used properly, technology:

  • Bridges the gap between in-person and virtual care,
  • Fosters seamless care coordination,
  • Collects data and insights to improve diagnoses and treatment plans, and
  • Opens communication channels between the patient and care team. 

Finally, VBC inspires physicians to collaborate, identify and tackle challenges, and lean on each other for personal and professional support. By forming ACO partnerships, providers commit to taking the VBC journey together. They are measured against the same benchmarks and join forces to achieve success as a team. To a burned-out provider, this type of support can be invaluable.  

Other Steps to Fight Burnout 

These additional tips can help address some of the biggest causes of burnout. 

  • Delegate/outsource care coordination. Nonclinical healthcare professionals, like community health workers, can help ease provider burden by addressing social determinants of health, coordinating care, and connecting patients with resources. 
  • Build better in-office teamwork. Pre-visit planning is an excellent way to ensure smooth, predictable, and reliable workflow throughout the day, which reduces administrative stress. 
  • Incorporate seasonal scheduling, which opens up practice calendars during certain times of the year for easy scheduling of wellness visits. This prevents overscheduling at other times of the year, allowing for lighter daily patient load. 
  • Don’t shy away from technology. EHRs may be a challenging pain point for many providers. But other types of technology—telemedicine, electronic patient communication, and billing or practice management software—are relatively easy to use and save practices a lot of administrative hours. 

There Is Hope for Burnout 

Physician burnout is a real problem, and finding ways to prevent it is crucial to protecting providers, patients, and the healthcare system as a whole. 

“There is hope,” says Bakhru. “Burnout does not have to be an absolute for people who choose to devote their lives to medicine. There are ways to deal with it—some simple, others more multifaceted. But overall, value-based care may be the best and most sustainable long-term solution, allowing healthcare providers to get back to practicing medicine the way they always envisioned they would when they first started their careers.”