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Doctor Burnout Widespread, Drives Medical Errors

MONDAY, July 9, 2018 (HealthDay News) — More than half of American doctors are burned out, a new national survey suggests, and those doctors are more likely to make medical mistakes.

The poll asked nearly 6,700 clinic and hospital physicians about medical errors, workplace safety, and symptoms of workplace burnout, fatigue, depression and suicidal thoughts.

More than 10 percent said they had committed at least one significant medical mistake in the three months leading up to the survey, and investigators concluded that those suffering from burnout were twice as likely to make a medical error.

“Burnout is a reversible work-related syndrome characterized by emotional exhaustion and/or cynicism, often featuring decreased effectiveness,” explained lead study author Dr. Daniel Tawfik. He is an instructor in pediatric critical care at Stanford University’s School of Medicine.

“Although not unique to physicians, it is particularly common in occupations like medicine that feature high levels of stress and intense interactions with people,” he said.

“When a physician is experiencing burnout, a wide range of adverse events may occur,” Tawfik noted. “In our study, the most common errors were errors in medical judgment, errors in diagnosing illness, and technical mistakes during procedures.”

Other studies, he said, have highlighted the link between burnout and improperly dosing or prescribing drugs; ordering too many or too few lab tests; or causing patients to fall, acquire infections or even prematurely die.

“The key finding of this study,” said Tawfik, “is that both individual physician burnout and work-unit safety grades are strongly associated with medical errors.”

According to the researchers, prior studies have tied medical errors to upwards of 100,000 to 200,000 patient deaths every year.

As for burnout, Tawfik noted that roughly one-third to one-half of all American doctors are thought to suffer from burnout symptoms at any given time.

To see how burnout and/or workplace safety might impact medical errors, the team surveyed physicians engaged in active clinical practice in 2014.

Nearly 4 percent described the safety record of their particular workplace as either “poor” or “failing.” An unsafe work environment was found to triple to quadruple the risk for committing a medical error.

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