Background: Mental health providers (MHPs), who are mission critical for the VHA, report the second highest level of burnout after primary care physicians. MHP burnout may be associated with negative system- level factors (organizational climate, workgroup perceptions, and supervisory behaviors), provider experiences (engagement, satisfaction, and turnover) and patient outcomes (access to, continuity of, experience of care). VHA has yet to conduct a systematic facility-level study identifying predictors and consequences of MHP burnout. This study will address HSR&D priorities focused on health care systems change, the impact of organizational and provider factors associated with quality of care for Veterans, and improving employee engagement. Objectives: This pre-implementation study aims to characterize variation in MHP burnout by facility over time, identifying workplace characteristics and practices of high performing facilities that can be translated for potential implementation at facilities with room for improvement.
Aim 1 : to examine facility- level predictors and consequences of VHA MHP burnout;
Aim 2 : to understand VHA MHP leadership and front-line provider perspectives regarding factors that protect against or exacerbate burnout in facilities with differing levels of burnout;
and Aim 3 : to identify context-sensitive strategies for facilities to successfully reduce VHA MHP burnout. Methods: Using a sequential explanatory mixed methods study, a two-phase design with quantitative data collection and analysis followed by qualitative data collection and analysis, and subsequent integration, we will evaluate factors that influence MHP burnout and their effects on patient outcomes. We will compile annual survey data on workplace conditions and annual staffing and productivity data between FY2014 and FY2018 to assess same and subsequent year provider and patient outcomes reflecting provider and patient experiences. The All Employee Survey (AES) is an annual organizational census of workplace perceptions and satisfaction. The Mental Health Provider Survey (MHPS) is an annual survey to assess MHP perceptions about access to and quality of mental health care, and job satisfaction. The Mental Health Outpatient Clinical method tracks MHP inpatient and outpatient clinical hours and productivity. We will examine MHP job satisfaction and patient experience metrics using the Strategic Analytics for Improvement and Learning (SAIL) Mental Health domain, the VHA's quality monitoring system. Facility complexity level is measured using a five level indicator based on patient risk, number of specialists, volume, and level of teaching and research, including mental health program characteristics. By linking these data sources, we will quantify predictors of burnout and the impact of burnout on patient outcomes. We will conduct interviews with mental health facility leadership and front-line MHPs, intentionally sampled using facility-level MHP burnout. We will create a joint display to interpret quantitative and qualitative findings on predictors and patient outcomes associated with burnout in light of facility context and any strategies used to address burnout. We will present our findings to an expert panel of operational partners, VA clinicians, administrators, policy leaders, and experts. The panel will select context-sensitive best practices to share with facilities to address MHP burnout and recommend potential interventions. Finally, we will reengage facilities that participated in Aim 2 and conduct focus groups and share results presented in feedback reports. We will broadly disseminate findings, which will support the development of actionable policies and approaches to addressing MHP burnout. Anticipated impacts on Veterans' health and next steps: This study will assist in future developing and testing interventions with VHA partners to improve MHP burnout and employee engagement. Decreased MHP burnout could improve quality of care, wait times, and lost revenues due to staff attrition. Our findings could be of clinical and financial value to VHA, its providers, and patients. Our work will contribute to broad VHA care improvements, and will generate new insights for care delivery.

Public Health Relevance

Clinical provider burnout is a key indicator of how well a health care system is functioning. Reducing mental health provider (MHP) burnout could improve patient access to care, quality of care, and improve employee engagement, which are core components of VHA's priorities and strategic plan. We propose to conduct the largest and most comprehensive study to date on the systematic, facility-level predictors and consequences of MHP burnout. VHA can use the findings from this longitudinal, mixed methods study to facilitative future planning and interventions to improve MHP burnout, employee engagement, and patient outcomes. Supported by a wide range of VHA and community partners and stakeholders, our findings could be of clinical and financial value to VHA, its providers, and patients. Our work will contribute to broad healthcare improvements within VHA, and will generate new insights for healthcare delivery, informing efforts to address burnout in MHPs and other clinical providers.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
Veterans Affairs (VA)
Non-HHS Research Projects (I01)
Project #
Application #
Study Section
HSR-5 Health Care System Organization and Delivery (HSR5)
Project Start
Project End
Budget Start
Budget End
Support Year
Fiscal Year
Total Cost
Indirect Cost
Veterans Health Administration
Ann Arbor
United States
Zip Code