Doctor Fatigue And Burnout Produces Serious Medical Errors

According to the Institute of Medicine, 100,000 to 200,000 deaths each year are the result of medical errors. Many of those doctor-related medical errors are due to the emotional exhaustion or the burnout that occurs from intense concentration and lack of sleep. Burnout is prevalent in the medical profession, according to a study orchestrated by the Institute of Medicine. The Mayo Clinic Proceedings published that study.

In a Stanford University School of Medicine survey more than 6,500 physicians, who are still practicing, replied to the standardized questionnaire that touched on physician well-being, burnout, symptoms of depression, and fatigue. Those doctors answered questions about workplace safety, and they had to list any major medical errors they made during their careers. More than 10 percent of those doctors said they made major medical errors in the three months before they answered survey questions. One in twenty of those errors were fatal. The most common mistake was not judging the medical condition the right way. Technical errors and incorrect diagnosis were the other top medical mistakes.

Emergency room doctors, neurosurgeons, and radiologists made the most mistakes. And psychiatrists, anesthesiologists, and pediatricians make the less amount of mistakes. The survey also shows 55 percent of the doctors’ who completed the survey experience symptoms associated with burnout, and 33 percent have fatigue symptoms. Plus, the survey shows doctors have a suicide rate three to five times higher than the average rate of suicide.

Doctors who are experiencing signs of burnout are twice as likely to make medical errors. The doctors experiencing fatigue are 38 percent more likely to commit some sort of medical error. Even if there were different safety levels in place in medical offices and hospitals, doctors committed the same percentage of errors, according to the instructor of pediatrics and critical care at Stanford University, Dr. Daniel Tawfik.

Dr. Tawfik said the survey shows burnout causes medical errors, and medical errors cause burnout. Burnout, according to Dr. Tawfik, is the direct result of the complexities and the flaws in the current healthcare system.

Hospitals are trying to prevent physician burnout by adding a wellness officer to the staff. Wellness officers can identify the symptoms of burnout before errors occur. And some medical offices are trying to cut the amount of paperwork doctors do after seeing a patient. For every hour a doctor spends with a patient, two hours of paper and desk work follow, and amount of work causes doctor fatigue, according to the study.

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