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Executives rate provider burnout as a disrupting force in healthcare

Restoring elective procedures is the primary growth strategy goal heading into 2021.

Jeff Lagasse, Associate Editor

(Photo by RUNSTUDIO/Getty Images)(Photo by RUNSTUDIO/Getty Images)

The most potentially disruptive forces facing hospitals and health systems in the next three years are provider burnout, disengagement and resulting shortages among healthcare professionals, according to a new survey of 551 healthcare executives.

In the 2021 Healthcare Trends Survey Report by AMN Healthcare, which is a staffing solutions company, executives also identified restoring elective procedures deferred by the COVID-19 pandemic as their primary growth strategy for 2021. The survey also indicates telehealth management will be the most important skill healthcare executives will need to develop in the coming year.

The survey was conducted by AMN Healthcare's Leadership Solutions division, which brings together AMN Healthcare with national consulting firms B.E. Smith and Merritt Hawkins. 


The COVID-19 pandemic has created hardships for healthcare executives, and two of the most pressing have been workforce burnout and loss of revenue. To ensure financial survival, restoring elective procedures will be top-of-mind for health leaders, and on that score healthcare executives are optimistic heading into the second quarter and beyond in 2021.

The survey reveals wide-ranging impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, and how executives perceive it will affect healthcare management and staffing in the coming year. Beyond burnout and provider shortages, financial pressures and government regulations were cited as the top disruptive forces.

Restoring deferred elective procedures, expanding service lines and expanding telehealth are the top three strategies hospitals and health systems will use to grow in 2021. Even with deferred elective procedures, 83% of hospitals and health systems are experiencing nursing shortages, 30% physician shortages, and 14% executive shortages.

About 82% of healthcare executives say that filling executive positions remains challenging. Meanwhile, the remote healthcare workforce is here to stay. Some 78% of hospitals and healthcare systems with remote personnel will retain remote staff, while only 12% will restore all on-site staff.

Telehealth management, quality and safety management, and clinical leadership are the key skills healthcare executives need to develop, while full telehealth reimbursement is potentially the most impactful regulation that could affect hospitals and health systems in 2021, the survey found. 

Despite the pandemic, 63% of healthcare executives are optimistic about the direction of healthcare in 2021.


The pandemic is taking a toll on the mental and emotional wellbeing of physicians, with female physicians and those in critical care and infectious disease reporting the highest burnout rates during the public health emergency, according to findings from a December physician burnout report from Medscape.

Burnout and the stress of the pandemic – including factors such as personal risk, social distancing and financial uncertainty – appeared to diminish physicians' overall work life happiness, with only 49% reporting they were happy in 2020, versus 69% pre-pandemic. More than one-third (34%) reported feeling unhappy last year, compared with 19% in 2019.

Nearly 80% of physicians said they felt burned out prior to the pandemic, but one in five said their burnout emerged only last year. Critical care (51%), rheumatology (50%) and infectious disease specialists (49%) ranked among the highest in reporting burnout for the first time since Medscape began surveying on the issue in 2013.

Even prior to the pandemic, burnout among healthcare professionals was a pervasive public health concern, with some studies reporting burnout for more than 50% of clinicians.

One recent study found reducing provider burden by optimizing flowsheets may have an appreciable effect on this trend.

Twitter: @JELagasse
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