Doctors’ Depression and Medical Mistakes

Those who suffer from depression know just how damaging the condition can be in all aspects of daily life, from personal relationships to on-the-job performance.  Burned out physicians are not spared these consequences.  And many times neither are their patients.

A recent survey by Medscape, a leading online source of medical news and reporting, divulged an alarming number of physicians who report they are depressed or burned out.  A little more than four out of every 10 doctors of the 15,543 surveyed said they were burned out.  Another 15 percent said they suffered from depression, including clinical, or severe, depression.

Critical care physicians and neurologists reported the highest rate of burnout, at 48 percent. Just behind this group were family medicine practitioners, with 47 percent claiming burnout.

14 Percent of Doctors Depressed and Burned Out

A sizeable total – 14 percent – of the physicians said they suffered from both burnout and depression.

With their hectic days and high stresses, it’s not surprising physicians are susceptible to mental fatigue.  But can a doctor’s depression harm patients?

The doctors in this survey were asked that very question.  Forty percent of doctors who experienced depression said their mental state did not affect patient care.  But more than one out of every 10 – 14 percent – admitted that their depression led to avoidable medical errors.

Doctors Mental State and Communication Mistakes

Other responses from doctors suffering from depression revealed potential underlying causes for preventable mistakes in care.  One third of these physicians said they are easily exasperated with patients and another 32 percent admit they listen and respond less to patients.  Almost a quarter – 24 percent – of depressed doctors said they are less careful with taking patient notes.

Poor communication has been shown to lead to catastrophic medical errors.  This is true not only between doctor and patient, but between members of the care team as well.  And a good number of depressed doctors report a lack of communication or sour relationships with their colleagues.

Forty two percent of physicians suffering from depression say they are less engaged with medical staff and peers.  The same percentage report they are more easily frustrated with their colleagues.

We all can understand how challenging job demands can extract a heavy toll from healthcare providers.  But physicians and other medical care professionals must be careful to avoid having personal problems and distractions lead to catastrophic mistakes in the care they provide.

If you lost a family member due to what you suspect was a medical error that should have been prevented, contact an experienced medical malpractice attorney to review your case.

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 February 9, 2018