Physicians who are experiencing burnout might be more likely to report medical errors than doctors who do not feel strained, according to a study published Monday in Mayo Clinic Proceedings.
The study is based on more than 6,000 responses to a cross-sectional, observational, anonymous survey of physicians between August 2014 and October 2014. The survey included responses from physicians across all specialties. Researchers presented the survey as a means to assess the factors that contribute to physicians' satisfaction.
The survey asked questions about respondents' demographics, practice settings, and work hours, as well as questions about:
The survey also asked respondents to rate their work with "an overall grade on patient safety," with:
According to the survey, respondents worked a median of 50 hours per week. The survey found that:
Just 3.9% of respondents assigned their work a "poor" or "failing" patient safety grade, the survey found. However, 10.5% said they were concerned that they had made a major medical error within the past three months. Among those respondents, the most common medical errors reported were:
According to the survey, more than 55% of the reported errors did not seem to affect patient outcomes, while 5.3% led to severe, permanent morbidity and 4.5% led to death. Respondents who worked in emergency medicine, neurosurgery, and radiology were most likely to report medical errors, while respondents who worked in anesthesiology, pediatric subspecialties, and psychiatry were the least likely to report medical errors, the survey found.
The researchers noted that burnout, fatigue, and suicidal thoughts were strongly linked with reports of medical errors. According to the researchers, 78% of respondents who reported a medical error also reported experiencing symptoms of burnout, 47% also reported feeling fatigued, and 13% also reported having had suicidal thoughts. After accounting for differences in hours worked per week and demographic factors, the researchers determined that respondents who reported experiencing symptoms of burnout were 2.2 times more likely to report a medical error than those who did not experience such symptoms. Likewise, the researchers concluded that respondents who reported experiencing fatigue were more likely, by about 15 percentage points, to report medical errors than those who did not report feeling fatigued, and respondents who reported having suicidal thoughts were about twice as likely to report medical errors as those who did not report such thoughts (Haelle, Medscape, 7/9; Baker, "Vitals," Axios, 7/10; MacIntyre, ABC News, 7/9).
Hamza Hasan, Practice Manager, Medical Group Strategy Council
This new study echoes what we've long heard about the pernicious impact of physician burnout. In our coverage of the topic, we've reported that burnout is not only linked to medical errors but to lower patient satisfaction, longer post-discharge recovery time, and lower physician productivity.
Health systems can't afford to ignore the issue, but fortunately leading health systems have figured out effective best practices to take it on. Here's how three leading systems have addressed the problem:
In these conversations, executives work from a structured script of talking points aimed at facilitating a productive conversation about the problems the individual physician is facing. All issues that physicians bring up are tracked, addressed and planned to be updated at the next meeting. This gives executives the chance to get insight into the issues that physicians are experiencing, and offers them the opportunity to surface and solve easy wins on burnout.
“Burnout is not only linked to medical errors but to lower patient satisfaction, longer post-discharge recovery time, and lower physician productivity.”
So Mercy decided to revamp their scorecards to make them user-friendly and easy-to-read. They cut down on the number of metrics, displayed data more intuitively, and put compelling patient or provider stories at the beginning of each section.
To discover more about these approaches, as well as the five key insights about burnout today, read our research report on combating physician burnout.
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