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The link between physician burnout and medical errors

Many people suffer job burnout at some point in their careers. However, according to a study published this year in Mayo Clinic Proceedings, over half of the doctors in this country report suffering burnout. The symptoms of burnout can include excessive fatigue, depression and even thoughts of suicide.

Physician burnout can have dangerous consequences for patients because, according to the researchers behind the study, doctors suffering from burnout have more than double the risk of making a medical error. Over 10 percent of the almost 6,700 physicians surveyed reported that they had made at least one significant medical mistake in the past three months. All doctors surveyed were practicing clinical medicine in hospitals or other facilities.

The study's lead author, who teaches medicine at Stanford University, says, "When a physician is experiencing burnout, a wide range of adverse events may occur." The most common, according to the study are "in medical judgment, errors in diagnosing illness, and technical mistakes during procedures." Other studies have linked physician burnout to prescription and dosing errors, mistakes in ordering lab tests and even to patients acquiring infections.

Hospitals and other health care facilities know the dangers of doctor burnout — for the doctors and their patients. They can also take steps to reduce it.

The lead author says that employers can help their physicians by limiting their hours, reducing their paperwork and providing stress management training. Some facilities have "chief wellness officers" on staff to care for the people who are caring for the patients.

Of course, when someone is seeing a doctor for their own medical issues, they have neither the time nor, likely, the ability to determine whether that doctor or others on the staff are suffering from job burnout. However, you can and should ask questions if something doesn't seem right.

While we like to believe that our doctors don't make mistakes, that's simply not the case. Some mistakes are relatively harmless. Others can be dangerous and even fatal. If you or a loved one has suffered harm from a physician's or other medical professional's error, it's essential to find out what your legal options are so that you can seek the justice and compensation you deserve.

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