Doctor burnout, depression can lead to major medical errors

Desiree Burns
July 11, 2018

Medical errors, as well, are common across the nation, with studies estimating these errors are responsible for 100,000 to 200,000 deaths each year. "What we find in this study is that physician burnout levels appear to be equally, if not more, important than the work unit safety score to the risk of medical errors occurring".

To investigate, they surveyed 6,695 USA doctors on whether they experienced symptoms of burnout or fatigue or suicidal thoughts and whether they had made any major medical errors in the previous three months.

The study is going to be published today online in the journal Mayo Clinic Proceedings.

Researchers at Stanford University School of Medicine anonymously surveyed more than 6,600 physicians in active practice. They also ranked safety levels of the health care settings where they worked. In addition, the doctors were asked to grade the safety of their workplace and comment on any major medical errors they may have made. So even doctors who are only a little more exhausted are more risky to their patients. Radiologists, neurosurgeons and emergency room doctors reported the most errors while pediatrics, psychiatrists and anesthesiologists reported the fewest.

"We found that physicians with burnout had more than twice the odds of self-reported medical error, after adjusting for specialty, work hours, fatigue and work unit safety rating", said Tawfik, an instructor in pediatric critical care medicine.

Of the 6,695 respondents, 3,574 - 55 percent - said they experienced burnout symptoms. This was consistent even in workplaces with different safety levels.

Medical errors are quite common in USA, with some of the previous studies reporting the errors to be responsible for about 100,000 to 200,000 deaths every year, but hardly any researches have focused on how physician burnouts could be contributing to these errors.

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A patient sits on hospital bed in this undated stock photo. "This [study] indicates both the burnout level as well as work unit safety characteristics are independently related to the risk of errors".

"We looked at burnout on a scale". "It's not just doctors on the extremes accounting for all of the errors".

More than half of American doctors are burned out, a new national survey suggests, and those doctors are more likely to make medical mistakes. "Errors can certainly lead to physician depression", explained Dr. Tawfik.

Physician burnout is a major concern for the healthcare industry.

A surgeon is pictured in this undated stock photo. Yes, despite that stress, the doctors still experience less burnout. Systems issues include "inefficiencies of the electronic health record, complexities of documentation requirements mandated by CMS, and responsibility placed on the physician to complete tasks that are better achieved by team-based care", Ripp said. Dr. Ripp continued that for every hour a doctor spends with a patient, they spend two hours filling out the paperwork.

Many hospitals now have physician wellness programs, which focus on remedies like mindfulness. While helpful, these solutions can act like a "Band-Aid" when there are larger systems issues at play, Ripp added. That approach may be neglecting the well-being of doctors themselves, however, says study author Tait Shanafelt at Stanford University-with consequences for the rest of us. Burnout, according to Dr. Tawfik, is the direct result of the complexities and the flaws in the current healthcare system.

To understand the phenomenon, the researchers examined information collected from 235 doctors from 174 small, independent practices in New York City.

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