What Causes Medical Errors?

 By estimation, about 100,000 to 200,000 deaths per year are contributed by medical errors, this is according to the explanation that was issued by the Institute of Medicine.

Burnout is a condition of emotional exhaustion or depersonalization that is very common with more than half of doctors, as revealed by the study.

The scope of the study

Physicians countrywide were surveyed by the researchers with the aim of understanding the relationship that exists between major medical errors and burnout in their careers.

The results which were published in Mayo Clinic Proceedings suggested that burnout by itself contributes a lot in errors. There are also other independent factors that play roles in contributing towards errors, they include physical fatigue, physician mental health and the perceived safety of the working place.

About 6,600 physicians in active practice were anonymously surveyed by the researchers from Stanford University School of Medicine. They were requested to fill out a standardized questionnaire considering their well-being, level of burnout, symptoms of depression and fatigue. In the questionnaire, the doctors were also expected to make a comment on any medical error which they have made and also to grade the safety of their workplace.

Findings of the study

Three months before the survey, over 10 percent of doctors were reported to have made major medical errors in which 1 out of 20 of the reported errors being fatal ones. The most common mistakes by doctors were “error in judgment,” seconded by technical errors, which resulted into incorrect diagnosis.  The most errors were reported by emergency room doctors, neurologists, and radiologists while psychiatrists, anesthesiologists, and pediatrics had fewer errors reported.

Brass doctors who reported symptoms of burnout were 55% of the total doctors, while the other 33% of doctors reported high level of fatigue, and the rest 6.5% was thinking of killing themselves in the last year. The study result shows that the rate of committing suicide in doctors is 3 to 5 times that of the general public.

If a doctor has signs of burnout, then he or she can make medical errors more than twice, and with the signs of fatigue, they are 38 percent more likely to commit errors. This result was very consistent in different workplaces with different safety levels.

“A physician with burnout in a work unit with a safety grade A has the same rate of error as a non-burnout physician in a unit with safety grades much lower,” explained lead author, Dr, Daniel Tawfik, MD, MS Instructor of pediatrics and critical care at Stanford University.

Dr. Daniel also added that the number of errors, which have been reported seemed to be directly related to the level of burnout just as revealed by the study.