ICD-11 classifies burnout as an occupational condition

January 3, 2020

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Last year, the World Health Organization (WHO) reclassified workplace burnout in the 11th Revision of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11), the manual physicians use to assign a diagnosis for treatment and medical billing. The updated manual lists burnout as an occupational phenomenon, rather than a medical condition.

So, what does this mean for employers?

The risk of burnout has always been an issue for certain professions, such as first responders, emergency room physicians and psychiatrists. But WHO’s reclassification of the term could expand the use of its diagnosis for many employers. According to the handbook, a patient exhibiting the following symptoms could be diagnosed by their doctor with burnout:

  • Feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion
  • Increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job
  • Reduced professional efficacy

However, before a provider diagnoses a patient with burnout, they must rule out other stress disorders. These may include acute stress reaction, post-traumatic stress disorder, adjustment disorders or other reactions to severe stress as defined by ICD-11. This diagnosis would be limited to those situations where work is the only contributing factor and does not apply to situations outside of the work environment.

To help employees cope, some employers are working to develop resiliency training. They are also taking steps to increase well-being by encouraging and providing space for mindfulness and meditation. Following an emotionally or physically draining event, employers have developed formal processes to debrief employees, offer them support resources, and let them know their feelings and reactions are normal.

In workers’ compensation, it will be difficult for an employee to prove that work is the only contributing factor to their burnout diagnosis, unless there is a presumption based on state jurisdiction and job classification. This type of claim has many implications and would have to be carefully assessed and investigated before a decision is made — working closely with the employer throughout the process.

If the previous version of the manual, ICD-10, is any indication, it will take several years for ICD-11 to be adopted. There are many hurdles that must be overcome before the medical community and billing industry adopts this latest version. It is important to note that ICD-11 has been in development since 2007 and has 55,000 codes, compared to 14,400 in ICD-10. This massive change will require a lot of programming and will not be easily implemented, but the process has certainly begun.

Tags: Care + Advocacy, Health and wellness, Mental health, Resilience + Readiness, Stress, Workers comp