How administrative staff burnout affects the patient experience—and four strategies that can help

What keeps the doors of your health system open? Patients. Making and keeping them happy is critical. Unfortunately, staff burnout in healthcare can negatively affect the patient experience and jeopardize patient retention. 

One of the leading causes of administrative staff turnover is burnout. Here are several ways how healthcare burnout and subsequent staff turnover can negatively affect the patient experience—and what you can do about it.

Staff burnout in healthcare: An ongoing challenge

Think about the last time you went to a restaurant that was short-staffed. Your server probably looked exhausted and desperate for a break. You probably waited longer than usual for your meal. Perhaps you made a mental note: Don’t come back here again. The same thing can happen in healthcare when health systems have trouble retaining administrative staff. When patients are dissatisfied with their healthcare experience, they may start to look elsewhere for care.

Consider how staff burnout in healthcare can negatively impact the patient experience:

Longer wait times, less access. When staff are bogged down by manual tasks, the patient experience suffers. Lengthy wait times for check-in and appointment scheduling can inhibit patient access. Organizations that fail to address these frustrations could lose up to 48% of their patient base in a year—and that doesn’t account for potential patients who may avoid your health system after reading online reviews about long wait times.

Inability to get questions answered. Your patients have questions. Does your staff have time to answer them, or are they bogged down by manual processes? When administrative staff appear overwhelmed and distressed, patients may avoid asking questions entirely, limiting your ability to provide the proactive, empathetic care they expect. 

Feeling uncared for and underappreciated. When administrative staff are busy answering phones or photocopying documents, they have fewer opportunities to focus on building relationships and fostering trust with your patients. Healthcare is, at its core, a caring profession. When staff are burned out, it becomes nearly impossible for them to care for others, which can leave patients feeling neglected, hinder retention and discourage them from seeking care.

Strategies to combat burnout in administrative staff

Healthcare organizations can address and prevent administrative burnout while simultaneously improving the patient experience with these four strategies: 

  1. Learn how to spot burnout. Healthcare leaders need to investigate how administrative staff are feeling and determine whether they need more support. Make sure leaders and managers know how to identify telltale signs of burnout, including exhaustion, absenteeism, disengagement, heightened sensitivity and isolation. Burned-out employees may lower their standards, interact with colleagues in disrespectful ways and express cynicism or feelings of inadequacy. Identifying burnout is the first step in reducing employee turnover and delivering the personalized experience patients want.

  2. Help staff feel connected to your mission. Understanding whether you’re paying a competitive rate is essential for navigating the current labor environment. But given how tight most health systems’ budgets are, raises may not be possible.Luckily, there are alternative ways to retain staff and help them feel connected to their work.

    Staff feel a sense of loyalty to your organization and mission when they can clearly understand how their work affects patients. Discuss patients’ stories and highlight the relationship between positive outcomes and staff effort. 

  3. Show appreciation. Small gestures can go a long way. To express your gratitude, consider sending handwritten thank-you notes, or giving each employee a gift card for a free coffee. You don’t need to spend a lot of money to express your gratitude and let staff know how much you value their work. 

  4. Embrace healthcare technology. Healthcare technology can reduce administrative burnout by enabling staff to spend less time on manual tasks and more time engaging patients. Staff gain efficiency and time, make fewer data-entry errors and can refocus their attention on improving the patient experience, which helps patients take a more active role in their care. Engaged patients are more likely to show up for their appointments, pay their medical bills at the time of service and schedule the follow-up and preventive care they need.

By embracing technology, healthcare organizations can automate manual tasks, reduce administrative staff burnout and engage more patients in their care. 


Learn how Phreesia can help you deliver the modern, convenient experience your patients and staff expect.

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