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Is Doctor Burnout Contributing To Medical Mistakes?

In recent years, doctors have been more vocal about the stress they feel in their jobs. Some have called burnout in the medical profession “a national epidemic.” Not only does burnout affect doctors, nurses, and others in the healthcare industry, but it affects patients as well. Doctor burnout may impact patient safety and the rates of medical mistakes.

According to an article in U.S. News & World Report, doctors suffer higher rates of burnout than other professions. Some of the highest rates of burnout are in the medical specialties of emergency medicine, urology, family medicine, and physical medicine. A study by the Mayo Clinic found that more than 70% of emergency medicine doctors may be suffering burnout.

A Mayo Clinic study, led by Dr. Tait Shanafelt, evaluated the rates of burnout and work-life balance in physicians. The study found that almost 55% of physicians reported at least one symptom of burnout in 2014, up almost 10% compared to 2011. The study also reported more than 7% of physicians reported they had considered suicide in the past year, compared to 4% for other workers.

According to a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association, increasing the workload of healthcare providers has consequences for patient health. Researchers found that increasing a nurse’s workload by one additional surgical patient resulted in a 7% increase in fatality rates for the patient. Adding 4 to 6 additional patients could increase the fatality rate by 14%. The death rates increase as nurses are asked to care for higher numbers of patients.

Doctors are also attributing medical mistakes to burnout. A survey in the Annals of Surgery found that the majority of doctors who reported major medical errors attributed them to problems such as fatigue or stress. According to the report, the more burnt out the doctor felt, the more likely they were to make a medical mistake.

There are a number of factors that may be associated with increased burnout. This includes a greater emphasis on productivity and increased reliance on electronic medical records. Doctors can spend as much as two-thirds of their time just doing paperwork. However, burnout can also be related to traumatic events, such as a patient’s death, adverse event, or mass casualty incident.

As the number of doctors facing burnout continues to rise, there may be a similar increase in medical errors. With doctors spending an increasing percentage of time on maintaining electronic health records, they may be spending less time with patients. A focus on productivity and electronic records may result in a missed diagnosis, patient mix-ups, and medical errors related to overwork and stress.

If you or a loved one has been injured due to a medical error, the Gilman & Bedigian team is fully equipped to handle the complex process of filing a medical malpractice claim. Our staff, including a physician and attorneys with decades of litigation experience, will focus on getting you compensation, so you can focus on healing and moving forward. Please do not hesitate to contact us today for a free consultation.

About the Author

Briggs Bedigian
Briggs Bedigian

H. Briggs Bedigian (“Briggs”) is a founding partner of Gilman & Bedigian, LLC.  Prior to forming Gilman & Bedigian, LLC, Briggs was a partner at Wais, Vogelstein and Bedigian, LLC, where he was the head of the firm’s litigation practice.  Briggs’ legal practice is focused on representing clients involved in medical malpractice and catastrophic personal injury cases. 

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