Major Medical Errors Linked to Physician Burnout

Medical errors are a major source of inpatient deaths in the United States, and now physician burnout has been linked to a higher risk of medical errors.

Medical errors are a major source of inpatient deaths in the United States, responsible for about 100,000 to 200,000 deaths yearly, and as it has been heavily reported, physician burnout is a national epidemic. But what is the correlation between medical errors and burnout, if any? According to a study led by Stanford researchers and published in Mayo Clinic Proceedings last month, the correlation may be more significant than one might think, as the results have found physician burnout may cause more medical errors than unsafe medical workplace conditions.

The study compiled survey results from 6,695 physicians nationwide, who were asked to respond to 60 questions on topics including fatigue, burnout, thoughts of suicide, and workplace safety.

Of the respondents, 3,574 (55%) reported symptoms of burnout, and 10.5% reported a self-perceived major medical error in the previous three months. Errors were most frequently categorized as an error in judgment (39.2%), a wrong diagnosis (20.0%), or a technical mistake (13.0%), and the highest prevalence of medical errors was reported by physicians working in radiology (23.3%), neurosurgery (21.8%), and emergency medicine (21.4%).

“We found that physicians with burnout had more than twice the odds of self-reported medical error, after adjusting for specialty, work hours, fatigue and work unit safety rating,” the researchers said. “High burnout, even in an excellent safety environment, is nearly as risky as no burnout in a unit that had a poor safety grade.”

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