Depressed Doctors Linked to Medical Errors

Physicians who show signs of depression – regardless of their experience or lack of – are more likely to make mistakes during medical treatment.

That’s the conclusion of a new study that reviewed the findings of previous research efforts into depressed doctors.  The study (“Association Between Physician Depressive Symptoms and Medical Errors – A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis”) was published online late last year by JAMA Network Open, a medical journal from the American Medical Association.

This latest research encompassed 11 previous studies of physician depression.  More than 21,500 doctors were included in the studies.

Eight of the studies examined solely interns and residents – physicians who were still undergoing training – and the other three included doctors of all experience levels.  The majority of the studies gathered data on doctors from numerous practice areas. Four did focus on separate specialties:

·         Pediatrics

·         Anesthesiology

·         Internal medicine

Depression Means Higher Rate of Medical Mistakes

The researchers concluded that doctors who show signs of depression pose increased chances for making medical errors.  This applies to both doctors in training and those who have years of experience.

The actual elevated risk may be even greater, as the serious medical errors highlighted in all but one of the studies were self-reported.  So many more medical mistakes made by physicians may not have been tallied or investigated.

The research also notes that depression is both preventable and treatable. They authors recommend medical administrators should encourage doctors showing depression symptoms to get help.

They conclude their findings suggest a real link between physicians’ mental health and patient safety.   And physician depression is not a minor occurrence.

Just this month Medscape, a healthcare industry website, published a report on physician burnout (“Medscape National Physician Burnout & Suicide Report 2020: The Generational Divide”).  Of the 15,000 doctors included in the survey, 42% said they were burned out.

Physician Burnout

Physician burnout, as described in the Medscape report, stems from job-related stress that leads to cynicism and disinterest in on-the-job responsibilities.

This study found that burnout occurred most often in Generation X doctors – those that are in the middle of their careers. Generation X encompasses those born between the late 1960s through the late 1970s, just after Baby Boomers.

Across all age and experience levels, about 16% of all the physicians surveyed said that their burnout has led to them making medical mistakes.

Factors listed as causes for doctor burnout point to factors that perhaps could be alleviated by hospital administrators, including:

·         Bureaucratic tasks

·         Lack of respect from administrators

·         Lack of control, autonomy

Not surprisingly, then, solo-practice offices was reported as the setting where burnout occurred the least.  Larger medical care facilities – healthcare organizations, outpatient clinics, multi-specialty groups – were found to have the most physician burnout.

Doctor burnout is not a new or unreported phenomenon.  The evidence suggests that depression can lead to patient harm.  Doctors and hospital leaders have a responsibility, therefore, to address it.

If you had a family member die or you were seriously injured during medical treatment, a preventable error may have occurred. Speak with a lawyer experienced in conducting medical malpractice investigations to help determine if one did and what was the cause.

The choice of a lawyer is an important decision that should not be based solely on advertisements.

Authored by Gray, Ritter & Graham, P.C., posted in Blog January 23, 2020