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Burned Out Doctors Putting Patients at Risk for Medical Errors

If your doctor is tired or depressed, your medical care could suffer. According to a new study, physician burnout is not only alarmingly common, but is also putting patients at greater risk for medical errors.

Level of Burnout Among Physicians

According to Medscape, nearly two-thirds of U.S. doctors experience burnout, depression or both. The results are in line with a prior study by the Mayo Clinic found that about 46 percent of the 7,200 doctors surveyed showed signs of burnout. The rate was 10 percent higher than the rest of the population.

As Reuters Health reports, Medscape survey polled more than 15,000 doctors across 29 specialties. It specifically asked them about depression and burnout, which was defined as feelings of physical, emotional or mental exhaustion; frustration or cynicism about work; and doubts about the value of their work.

The survey revealed that critical care doctors and neurologists had the highest rates of burnout (48 percent), followed by family doctors (47 percent) and ob/gyns and internists (46 percent). Meanwhile, the lowest rates of burnout were among plastic surgeons (23 percent), ophthalmologists (33 percent), and dermatologists and pathologists (32 percent). Notably, doctors in these positions tend to have better working hours and are less likely to be involved in emergency situations.

Increased Risk of Medical Errors

Doctors who reported being burned out acknowledged that it does impact patient care. “One in three depressed doctors said they were more easily exasperated by patients; 32 percent said they were less engaged with their patients; and 29 percent acknowledged being less friendly,” Leslie Kane, Senior Director, Medscape Business of Medicine, told Reuters Health.

In addition, almost 15 percent of depressed doctors said their condition might cause them to make medical mistakes they wouldn’t ordinarily make. Another five percent admitted that depression resulted in medical errors that might have harmed patients.

As San Diego medical malpractice attorneys, the rate of physician burnout is extremely concerning. The Medscape survey found that less than half (45 percent) of hospital-based doctors and 31 percent of office-based multispecialty practices or outpatient clinics provide burnout prevention programs. Hospitals and medical boards need to do more to get to the root of the problem, whether it is overscheduling, poor work-life balance, or the demands of electronic health records (EHR).

If you or someone you love has suffered serious harm due to a medical mistake, don’t hesitate to contact a San Diego medical malpractice lawyer at the Law Offices of Robert Vaage for a free consultation.