The results of a recent study “Physician Burnout, Well-being, and Work Unit Safety Grades in Relationship to Reported Medical Errors” published in the Mayo Clinic Proceedings revealed a startling relationship between doctor burnout and medical errors.
Medical error related deaths and injuries are a major problem in the U.S. and are responsible for more than 250,000 deaths and 10 to 20 times as many nonfatal injuries in this country each year. This makes medical errors the third leading cause of death in the U.S., just behind heart disease and cancer.
21% of patients report having personally experienced a medical error, according to a nationwide survey conducted by NORC at the University of Chicago, which also found that when these medical errors do occur, they often have a lasting impact on the patient’s physical health, emotional health, financial well-being, or family relationships.
Doctor Burnout and Medical Errors
Job “burnout” among doctors has long been suspected to be a contributing cause to medical errors.
Job burnout is a type of work-related stress that can be caused by long hours, heavy work-loads, dysfunctional workplace dynamics, lack of social support and the pressure to succeed. Burnout can lead to physical and emotional exhaustion, cynicism, dissatisfaction, detachment, a sense of reduced accomplishment, feelings of ineffectiveness and in the worst cases, alcoholism, substance abuse and thoughts of suicide. Physician burnout influences quality of care, patient safety, patient satisfaction and turnover rates at hospitals and clinics.
From August 28, 2014, to October 6, 2014, researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine surveyed U.S. physicians in active practice to determine if there was a relationship between workplace burnout, fatigue and depressive symptoms and medical errors. Of the 6,695 physicians who responded to the survey, 3,574 (54.3%) reported symptoms of job burnout. 691 (10.5%) reported making a major medical error in the prior 3 months. These errors included misdiagnosis, failure to diagnose, treatment errors and technical errors. Fifty-five percent of the errors did not affect patient outcomes; however, 5.3 percent led to permanent health problems, and 4.5 percent resulted in a patient’s death.
The researchers’ findings support several other studies that have reported an association between physician burnout and adverse quality of care, including errors. They recommend a comprehensive approach to reduce burnout-related medical errors, including interventions to improve unit-level patient safety infrastructure, as well as system-level interventions combatting physician burnout and promoting well-being.
Work Hours for Doctors
Exhaustion among doctors in training (residents) is an issue that the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education attempts to address with limitations on the hours worked in residency and fellowship training.
According to ACGME standards, residents can work shifts up to 24 hours long, plus up to four hours to manage care transitions. Total clinical and educational hours are capped at 80 hours a week. However, as a 2017 article in The Atlantic notes, “large majorities of … residents admit they falsely under-report their hours to their programs and the ACGME.”
Once a doctor has completed training and is practicing in their chosen specialty, there are no laws dictating how many hours they are permitted to work in a given week.
Have You Been Injured Due To a Doctor’s Error?
No matter what their cause, medical errors can have a devastating effect on an individual and their families. If you were injured due to the negligence of a medical provider or institution in Florida, you might have grounds to seek compensation for the damages caused by their negligence.
Don’t put off seeking legal help. Based in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, medical malpractice attorney Lisa Levine is nationally renowned for helping victims of medical negligence obtain the justice they deserve for their pain, suffering and economic losses. Contact the law offices of Lisa Levine to schedule a free consultation to discuss your case.