Burnout, depression lead to “major medical errors” by surgeons
Tuesday, November 24, 2009
Do you think the number of mistakes made in the operating room is insignificant? If so, you’ll be surprised to learn almost nine percent of surgeons who responded to an unscientific survey commissioned by the American College of Surgeons said they were concerned they had made a “major medical error.”
Not at some point in their career. Just in the previous three months.
The study‘s conclusion: “Major medical errors reported by surgeons are strongly related to a surgeon’s degree of burnout and their mental QOL [quality of life].” The study had set out to evaluate the relationship between burnout and medical errors, because, as the authors say, “despite efforts to improve patient safety, medical errors by physicians remain a common cause of morbidity and mortality.”
We don’t have access to the full report, but The Wall Street Journal does, and according to the Journal the report says:
Although surgeons do not appear more likely to make errors than physicians in other disciplines, errors made by surgeons may have more severe consequences for patients due to the interventional nature of surgical practice.
Which is a fancy way of saying a surgeon’s mistake could kill you.
Of the 7,905 surgeons who participated anonymously, 700 said they were concerned that had made a major medical error in the previous three months. Surveys were sent to almost 25,000 surgeons, but the authors said they couldn’t determine if the relatively low return rate affected the results. They said burned-out surgeons could have been too apathetic to respond, or they could have been more concerned about burnout and more likely to participate.
Burnout is a significant issue for surgeons. According to a report published in September, also in Annals of Surgery, 40% of surgeons who responded to a survey qualified as burned out, and 30% screened positive for symptoms of depression. That report concluded: “Burnout is common among American surgeons and is the single greatest predictor of surgeons’ satisfaction with career and specialty choice.”