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Study links widespread doctor burnout with medical errors

Results from a survey of more than 6,000 physicians suggest many doctors in Ohio and throughout the United States suffer from burnout. Furthermore, this added work-related fatigue and stress could increase the risk of medical errors. More than 10 percent of the health care professionals surveyed reported being responsible for at least one significant medical mistake within the previous three months. Investigators also concluded that burned out physicians were twice as likely to make a medical mistake.

The type of doctor burnout that may lead to cases involving medical malpractice is “a reversible work-related syndrome,” according to the study’s lead physician and author. Misdiagnosing illnesses, lapses in medical judgment and surgical errors were among the most common medical mistakes reported. Previous studies have also linked physician burnout with patient infections, medical and lab test issues and premature death.

As many as half of all physicians in the U.S. may experience burnout at one time or another. The safety record of a doctor’s work environment further increased the risk of medical errors. Nearly 5 percent of medical professionals surveyed considered their workplace’s safety record to be either poor or failing. Doctors reporting medical mistakes were also more likely to have burnout symptoms. Some hospitals are responding to problems of this nature by having wellness officers monitor employee well-being. Researchers also suggest encouraging mindfulness training and stress management.

For instances when medical professional negligence is suspected, an attorney can review the situation. If there is sufficient evidence to explore available legal options, a lawyer may also consider a physician’s work schedule, whether or not other patients have reported medical errors, the overall physical and mental health of the doctor involved and their workplace’s safety record.