Burnout increases risk of medical errors two fold — 5 insights

A study, published in Mayo Clinic Proceedings, claims physicians that had at least one major burnout symptom were twice as likely to report a major medical error over a three month period, Medscape reports.

Researchers used the American Medical Association's Physician Masterfile to survey 6,695 physicians. Approximately 67 percent of respondents were male, and respondents had a median age of 56. They worked a median of 50 hours per week. Researchers asked 60 questions related to burnout, and respondents assigned an A to F grade to each answer.

Here's what they found:

1. Fifty-four percent of respondents reported experiencing at least one symptom of burnout.

2. Thirty-three percent of respondents reported excessive fatigue and 6.5 percent reported having suicidal thoughts throughout the past year.

3. About 3.9 percent of respondents gave their unit a poor or failing safety grade, and 10.5 percent reported making a major medical error within the last three months.

4. Thirty-nine percent reported making errors in judgment, 20 percent made the wrong diagnosis and 13 percent made technical mistakes. Patients died as a result of 4.5 percent of the mistakes, with 5.3 percent of the mistakes leading to permanent morbidity. Meanwhile, 55 percent of the mistakes did not impact patient outcomes.

5. Odds of a perceived error increased 4 percent for every night they were on call.

Researchers concluded, "In this large national study, physician burnout, fatigue and work unit safety grades were independently associated with major medical errors. Interventions to reduce rates of medical errors must address both physician well-being and work unit safety."

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