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Doctor burnout makes medical errors more likely

The results of a nationwide survey of doctors might be interesting to Oklahoma readers. Nearly 6,700 hospital and clinic doctors were asked about workplace safety, medical errors, fatigue, depression, suicidal thoughts and workplace burnout. Researchers concluded that doctors who suffered from symptoms of burnout were twice as likely as others to make a medical mistake.

Among those doctors surveyed, more than 10 percent said they had made a significant medical mistake during the three months prior to the survey. According to the lead author of the study, an instructor at Stanford’s School of Medicine, doctor burnout is a reversible condition characterized by cynicism or emotional exhaustion. Doctors suffering from workplace burnout are often less effective than others. According to the lead author, other studies have indicated a link between workplace burnout and prescribing or dosing drugs improperly.

The researchers said that other studies have tied errors in medical care to between 100,000 and 200,000 patient deaths annually. Symptoms of burnout found in the study were more common among the doctors who said they’d recently made a medical mistake than they were among those who didn’t. Almost 4 percent of those surveyed categorized their workplace’s safety record as failing or poor while more than 55 percent of those surveyed reported workplace burnout. One-third of respondents said they had excessive fatigue. At facilities where burnout was viewed as a common problem, the risk of medical errors tripled, even if the workplace was thought to be safe.

The study’s lead author said facilities should limit paperwork, stress and work hours to reduce the risk of doctor burnout. A person who is injured as the result of a medical error may be entitled to compensation that covers lost wages, pain and suffering, medical expenses and other damages. A lawyer with experience handling medical malpractice cases may be able to help by gathering proof of the injured party’s claims.