The High Cost of Burnout in Physical Therapy Practices

The cost of burnout in physical therapy practices can take a toll on productivity, treatment effectiveness, and, ultimately, your practice's bottom line.
Header Image Depicting A Physical Therapist With Long Dark Hair, Frowning While Looking Down At A Patient. The Physical Therapist Is Experiencing Burnout, Exhaustion, And Depersonalization. The Title Of The Blog Reads: &Quot;The High Cost Of Burnout In Physical Therapy Practices.&Quot;

As a physical therapy or rehabilitation practice owner, you know firsthand how challenging it is to balance the demands of leadership as you continue to provide treatment, expand your business, and manage your staff. It’s a juggling act that requires incredible skill, dedication, and grit.

But despite your best efforts, the job can take a toll on your own health and wellbeing, leaving you feeling burnt out and overwhelmed.

And you’re not the only one feeling the cost of burnout in physical therapy. Your staff are working tirelessly to help patients recover from injuries, manage disabilities, and minimize pain. They’re constantly on their feet, moving from one patient to the next, all while trying to keep up with paperwork and administrative tasks. It’s a lot to handle, and it’s no wonder that up to 82.4% of physical therapists experience burnout.

Thankfully, as a leader in your practice, you have the power to create a work environment that fosters fulfilment and health for everyone involved. Keep reading to learn how you can understand and address the impact of burnout on productivity, treatment effectiveness, and, ultimately, your practice’s bottom line.

The Cost of Burnout in Physical Therapy

Burnout could be critically affecting your clinic. In fact, physician burnout in the U.S. might result in annual costs as high as $5 billion. In order to reduce the cost of burnout in physical therapy, leaders must first understand where and why it appears.

How Burnout Shows up in Your PT Practice

The Maslach Burnout Inventory (MBI) measures burnout by three dimensions: professional accomplishment (or efficacy), depersonalization (or cynicism), and exhaustion. These aspects of burnout can impact your bottom line by damaging core aspects of your practice’s success:

Quality of Care

When healthcare providers feel like they aren’t able to deliver their best care, it takes a toll. In fact, a low sense of “personal accomplishment,” (a feeling of competence and successful achievement in one’s work) is the first dimension used to measure burnout. Stressed and overworked staff members are prone to errors, falling behind, missing important details, or failing to provide personalized care. In extremes, burnout can even impact patient safety. A study of 6,880 US physicians showed that “doctors who report signs of burnout are twice as likely to have made a medical error in the previous three months.”

Can providers with exceptional performance still have a low sense of personal accomplishment? Absolutely — and the reasons might surprise you. According to a correlational study between physical therapy and burnout, “professional identity is the strongest predictor of low personal accomplishment… When employees understand their worth and place inside of an organization, it improves their professional identity. However, when that vision is unclear, it can lead a diminished feeling of personal accomplishment.”

Patient & Provider Experience

What’s a key sign of burnout among PTs? Compassion fatigue. This can be represented by the MBI dimension, “depersonalization,” which measures an unfeeling and impersonal response toward recipients of one’s service, care, treatment, or instruction. Even if they receive clinically effective treatment, patients will notice the disconnect. And so will your accountant. “Patients’ quality perceptions have accounted for a 17% to 27% variation in key financial metrics,” according to the Medical Economics Journal.

For the provider, too, compassion fatigue hurts. At the core, it means they’re losing their passion for PT. At the start of their careers, many therapists’ greatest joy is to witness and celebrate patient progress. Losing that connection impacts overall job satisfaction, and combined with other factors, may lead to therapists leaving the field for good.

Staff Turnover

Do your staff feel like they just can’t keep up? They might be exhausted. The “exhaustion” dimension of burnout refers to feelings of being emotionally overextended by your work. Often, this comes in response to an increase in work demands, poor relationships with colleagues and supervisors, poor work-life balance and inflexibility with schedules.

The result of exhaustion? According to that study on physical therapy and burnout“emotional exhaustion is an indicator of leaving the medical field, thus leading to increased vacancies in physical therapy.” Industry data also indicates that about 70% of rehab therapists in 2021 were considering a career change of some kind.

high turnover rate among burnt-out staff comes at a cost. As you know, it requires time and resources to recruit, train, and onboard new staff members. It’s hard to add up the exact financial impact of burnout related-turnover, but some studies predict the cost of employee turnover to be 6 to 9 times an employee’s annual salary. The American Medical Association estimates between $500,000 and $1M in comprehensive costs associated with physician turnover. Yeah, the numbers don’t look good.

So, how do you begin to address burnout and reduce its financial impact on your business? Here are some ways to support staff mental health and increase job satisfaction at all levels of your practice.

How to Support Burnt-Out Staff

It’s time to put out the fire. Your burnt-out staff needs support from the top in order to thrive. And the benefits don’t end there; Being proactive can also boost your bottom line! Research says that “every dollar spent on wellness brings in a $3 to $6 return on investment as a result of reduced medical errors, less physician turnover, improved patient satisfaction and improved quality of care.”

Thankfully, you’re not the first leader in healthcare to ask: “How do I reduce burnout in my private practice?” Because burnout is a widespread healthcare issue, which affects both providers and their patients, there are plenty of research-backed techniques to help minimize its impact.

Creating a Supportive Culture

Reducing burnout in the workplace means building a supportive culture for and with your whole staff. It’s one thing to put your workplace values on your website; it’s another to put them into practice. Here are some tangible ways to create a culture that says “No more!” to burnout:

  • Create positive work-life balance. Make sure your scheduling and documentation processes work for your staff, so they’re not spread too thin or buried under paperwork, taking time out of their personal lives. Consider offering shifts that work better for those with children or dependents. Consider case load sharing if some PTs are overworked.
  • Celebrate staff achievements. Keep track of high performers and reward them for their effort. Encourage peer-to-peer kudos. As much as possible, make every member of your practice feel appreciated — and help them appreciate one another.
  • Support professional development. In addition to continuing education, support your therapists and administrative staff in seeking out opportunities to grow, specialize, and lead. Encourage attendance at industry conferences. Offer opportunities for seasoned staff to work with students. No one wants to feel like their career is stagnant.
  • Promote self-care and better health. Physical activity, nutrition, rest, and stress-relieving routines are important preventative tools when it comes to stress, especially in such a physically active field. As a practice, how do you encourage your staff to take care of their physical and mental health? Consider your opportunities to start the conversation via internal communications, staff engagement activities, or incentives like gym membership reimbursement.

Laying the foundation for a supportive culture will go a long way in preventing burnout. But what do you do when your team is already setting off the metaphorical fire alarm?

Creating Access to Professional Resources

When it comes to recovering from burnout, behavioral health providers can offer expert guidance. By investing in quality health insurance and employee assistance programs, you can show your staff that you care about their physical and emotional health. These resources can help your staff overcome burnout and prevent it from occurring in the first place. In cultivating positive coping and emotional regulation skills, your staff can better respond to everyday stressors.

As a business leader, you can’t anticipate or resolve every challenge that your employees may face — but you can identify common issues like burnout, and provide the tools to help navigate them.

Reducing Workplace Stressors

Last, but certainly not least: Consider the way your practice workflows and clinical environments contribute to — or, ideally, reduce — stress. When it comes to the mental health of your staff, everyday touchpoints in the office and online can make a world of difference.

Take stock of your space(s). Your office design and environment can define the way staff and visitors experience your practice. Are your workstations uncluttered and easy to navigate? Are temperatures and noise levels comfortable? Is your décor welcoming? Do your employees have a voice in how their environment is organized?

​Streamline your clinical processes with technology. In an American Physical Therapy Association survey, therapists self-reported that paperwork was the highest contributing factor to burnout in the workplace. Having the right software in place can help remove everyday burdens by streamlining repeatable tasks, such as maintaining health records, sending appointment reminders, performing authorization checks, and billing.

Related: EMR Fatigue: 3 Ways the Wrong System can Contribute to Burnout

By understanding the multifaceted causes of burnout, rehabilitation practice leaders like you can implement comprehensive solutions that protect your staff, patients, and revenue.

Mitigate Burnout in Your Practice with Raintree

At Raintree, our mission is to help therapy and rehab practices grow by providing the most powerful, stable, and flexible technology platforms. Schedule a demo to learn how our “Best in KLAS” EMR solution drives greater operational efficiency in documentation, patient engagement, billing and RCM, and more.

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