Survey Finds Provider Burnout, Disengagement as Most Potentially Disruptive Trends in Health Care

April 9, 2021
Matthew Gavidia
Matthew Gavidia

Matthew is an associate editor of The American Journal of Managed Care® (AJMC®). He has been working on AJMC® since 2019 after receiving his Bachelor's degree at Rutgers University–New Brunswick in journalism and economics.

A 2021 survey on health care trends to monitor finds provider burnout, disengagement, and shortage of health care professionals as the most potentially disruptive issues facing hospitals and health systems in the next 3 years.

As hospitals and health care systems move to accommodate notable changes in health care delivery and needs precipitated by the COVID-19 pandemic, a survey by AMN Healthcare pinpoints 11 health care trends on challenges, staff management, and strategies for organizations to consider in the next few years.

The survey, “2021 Healthcare Trends Survey Report,” polled 551 health care executives from November to December 2020 on topics ranging across 4 talent management pillars, including leadership development, engagement, retention, and recruitment, with current and longstanding health industry concerns addressed as well.

Delving into the impact of the pandemic, 81% of respondents said they were affected a great deal in 2020, with significant financial distress, volume loss, and financial burden reported. Reacting to these issues, organizations were said to have cut budgets, furloughed workers, and tightly managed cash flow.

Restoring the care deferred amid the pandemic was additionally cited as a top priority. Among hospitals and health systems, restoring elective procedures and expanding service lines and telehealth were the top 3 strategies selected by organizations to grow in 2021. However, one respondent had said the financial hit will follow the health industry into this year, with others expecting full financial stabilization within 3 to 5 years.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has created a wave of challenges for health care executives, with workforce burnout and loss of revenue being key among them,” said James Taylor, group president and chief operating officer, Physician & Leadership Solutions, AMN Healthcare, in a statement.

Noted in the survey as the most potentially disruptive forces for hospitals and health systems in the next 3 years, overall rates of burnout and disengagement among physicians had been on the decline prior to the pandemic, but recent estimates referenced by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, which issued a position statement on the significance of sufficient sleep among physicians, indicated that burnout rates approached 50% in the beginning months of COVID-19, with midcareer physicians at highest risk.

When stratifying by role in health care, a majority of leadership groups were deemed highly (76%) and moderately (21%) engaged. Conversely, high and moderate engagement was reported by less than half of nurses and physicians, with rates of low engagement found most prominently for these groups as well (low engagement: physician, 9%; nurse, 8%; leadership, 3%).

As nurses and physicians report growing burnout and disengagement rates, recruiting and maintaining health care employees has also been an issue. Shortages in nurses (83%), physicians (30%), and executives (14%) were reported for health systems and hospitals, with 82% of health care executives saying that filling executive positions remains challenging.

Other noteworthy findings include:

  • telehealth management, quality and safety management, and clinical leadership were indicated as the key skills health care executives need to develop;
  • 78% of hospitals and health care systems with remote personnel will retain remote staff, while only 12% will restore all on-site staff;
  • full telehealth reimbursement was reported as the potentially most impactful regulation that could affect hospitals and health systems in 2021; and
  • 63% of health care executives are optimistic about the direction of health care in 2021.

“While there are many talent retention, technology, safety, and diversity challenges to be addressed, most health care executives are optimistic about 2021. It’s going to be an interesting year that all stakeholders in health care should be prepared to navigate,” said Taylor.