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Survey Finds That Over Half Of Physicians Are Burned Out, Which Could Lead To Medical Errors

Jul 10, 2018 07:51 PM EDT
A new survey published in Mayo Clinic Proceedings revealed a connection between physicians' burnout and medical errors, showing that a doctor's well-being is just as important in guaranteeing success in the workplace
(Photo : Darko Stojanovic | Pixabay)

People always assume doctors are always on, but physicians get burned out too. Unfortunately, burnout has been found to lead to life-threatening medical errors.

Doctors are just humans, after all, so it's no surprise that they get exhausted like anyone else. A new study reached out to doctors in an attempt to determine if there's a connection between this burnout and the risk of committing medical errors along the line.

Survey Finds Links Between Burnout And Errors

The survey, published in Mayo Clinic Proceedings, includes 6,695 participants from the United States who were surveyed on signs of burnout, excessive fatigue, and suicide ideation, as well as their work safety grades and experience with major medical errors.

The researchers found that 54.3 percent of the physicians reported symptoms of burnout, while 32.8 percent reported excessive fatigue, and 6.5 percent said they've had recent suicide ideation.

The workplace can also be a big factor in medical errors, so the participating doctors were asked to rate the patient safety levels of their hospitals or clinics. A total of 3.9 percent reported that their primary workplace has a poor or failing patient safety grade.

Meanwhile, a total of 10.5 percent reported making a major medical error in the last three months.

"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," lead author Daniel Tawfik, MD, an instructor in pediatric critical care medicine at Stanford University, explains in a press release from the university. "We also found that low safety grades in work units were associated with three to four times the odds of medical error."

He adds that this suggests that doctors' burnout level and the work unit safety characteristics are both and independently linked to risk of medical errors.

The study reveals that the rate of medical errors tripled in medical work units where there are doctors who experience high burnout levels. This statistic holds even in work units with an impressive safety rankings, which means burnout could be an even more important factor in medical errors than the environment.

"We need a two-pronged approach to reduce medical errors that also addresses physician burnout," Tawfik says.

Medical Errors

In a report from Johns Hopkins in 2016, researchers calculated that there are over 250,000 deaths due to medical error in the United States every year. That number makes it the third leading cause of death in the country.

Medical error has catastrophic consequences for patients who put their lives in the hands of doctors every day in hospitals. However, both these errors and the burnout that cause it also have devastating effects on the physician, each potentially doubling the risks of suicidal thoughts.

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