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Study suggests link between doctor burnout and medical errors

Doctors in Illinois and other parts of the United States typically make every effort to successfully treat patients. Even so, a survey involving nearly 7,000 hospital and clinical physicians suggests that many doctors in the U.S. are burnt out and more likely to make patient-related errors. The poll covered a wide range of issues that may affect doctor performance, including workplace safety and personal issues such as depression, fatigue and suicidal thoughts.

Over 10 percent of the physicians who were surveyed admitted committing at least one medical error during the past three months from the time they were polled. Investigators contend that doctor error is twice as likely to occur when physicians are burnt out either physically or mentally. The study’s lead author notes doctor burnout is a reversible problem that often decreases a physician’s ability to correctly diagnose and treat patients.

While burnout at work can occur in any occupation, it can be more impactful when excess stress or fatigue contributes to errors by doctors. Common mistakes that occurred among the physicians who were surveyed involved diagnosis errors, lapses in medical judgment and technical missteps during various procedures. Anywhere from a third to half of all U.S. doctors may experience burnout. Also, as many as 200,000 patient deaths each year may be due to medical errors, according to data from other studies. Stress management, mindfulness training and administrative reforms to ease increased paperwork burdens are among the possible solutions suggested by the study’s lead author.

If it’s believed a physician’s error may have been responsible for medical negligence, a lawyer might consider a doctor’s work schedule and whether or not he or she exhibited signs of burnout. Even if there was another reason for the oversight that contributed to a misdiagnosis, issues with dosing or prescribing drugs, failure to order important lab tests or complications during surgery, an affected patient may be entitled to appropriate compensation for medical expenses, loss of an ability to make a living and pain and suffering.