Physician Burnout Contributes to Medical Errors

There are many reasons why doctors make mistakes. For some, improper training is to blame. Other doctors are under the influence of a drug or alcohol addiction and can make sloppy mistakes because they are not thinking clearly. Still other medical malpractice errors stem from inadequate communication or improper procedures put in place at hospitals or medical practices.

Physician burnout might be an under appreciated cause of errors, according to a study out of Stanford University in California. Researchers sent surveys to thousands of doctors asking about burnout. Over 50% reported that they experienced burnout symptoms, such as exhaustion and cynicism. Another 10% also disclosed that they had made a major medical error in the previous three-month period.

In all, doctors who had symptoms of burnout were twice as likely to commit a medical error (or at least admit to one). This number was found after adjusting for specialty and hours worked. With so many doctors stressed, the number of errors is much higher than they need to be. Futurity magazine has even dubbed physician burnout a “national epidemic.”

Medical Errors: Not an Easy Problem to Address

The medical industry has made good strides at improving patient safety in a variety of areas. Many hospitals regularly review their protocols and seek to improve them to reduce the risk of error. However, burnout might be harder for the profession to address.

For one, there is a shortage of qualified medical professionals, so reducing hours is not always feasible. For another, many doctors are also self-employed and there is no supervisor who can force them to take time off. Many are operating under huge financial pressures, such as mammoth student loans, that can take decades to finally pay off. There is a clear financial incentive to take on so much work that they eventually become burned out. By the time a doctor realizes they are experiencing burnout, they might become dependent on maintaining a certain income.

Other doctors might take comfort knowing that their medical malpractice insurance will cover the cost of any error. This certainly does not help improve patient safety, though it does provide compensation for those victimized by mistakes.

Were You Injured by a Medical Error?

Dolan Dobrinsky Rosenblum Bluestein, LLP has fought on behalf of many victims of medical malpractice. We have sued doctors, nurses, and hospitals when they fail to satisfy the appropriate standard of care. For assistance with your case, please call 305-371-2692 for a free consultation.