While our law firm specializes in representing victims of Medical Malpractice, it is not lost upon us what a difficult job doctors have and the stress that comes with the medical profession.
The stress of always being on “top of your game”, long hours, and dealing with insurance companies can lead to burnout, and that burnout can have serious consequences for the doctor and patient alike.
High Rate of Doctor Burnout
A recent article in usnews highlights the high rate of burnout among doctors, especially Emergency room doctors. Burnout is a syndrome caused by workplace stress. It is characterized by emotional exhaustion, bitter cynicism, a plummeting sense of accomplishment and a tendency to view people as objects rather than as human beings. More than 54 percent of doctors have at least one symptom of burnout.
One study of more than 10,000 nurses and 230,000 surgery patients, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, examined the specific relationship between workload and patient deaths. Researchers found that increasing a nurse’s workload by one surgical patient was associated with a 7 percent increase in a patient’s odds of dying within 30 days of admission. Boosting the workload from four to six patients would increase the death rate by 14 percent, while going from six to eight patients would be tied to a 31 percent increase.
A separate survey of nearly 8,000 surgeons published in the Annals of Surgery found that 9 percent reported they had made a major medical error in the last three months. Approximately 70 percent attributed those perceived errors to a personal issue such as fatigue, stress or a lapse in judgment. The worse the surgeon’s burnout, the more likely he or she was to report making a medical error. Specifically, each 1-point increase in how a surgeon scored on a scale of emotional exhaustion was associated with a 5 percent increase in the odds of reporting an error, while a 1-point rise in to a surgeon’s depersonalization score was tied to an 11 percent increase.
The first step in fixing a problem is realizing you have one. Thus, it is time to shine a spotlight on physician burnout by elevating it into the public consciousness with hard data and recommendations for change.
Medical Errors Third Leading Cause of Death
Nearly two decades ago, the Institute of Medicine (now called the the National Academy of Medicine) issued a report called “To Err is Human” stating that as many as 98,000 Americans each year may die from preventable medical errors – a number many experts now view as low. A British Medical Journal study released in May supports that view, ranking medical errors as the third-leading cause of death in the U.S. after heart disease and cancer, killing 250,000 people a year. Burnout undoubtedly is a critical factor, experts say, making doctors more prone to making mistakes.
To have medical errors as the third-leading cause of death is simply unacceptable. This, of course, does not account for the large number of errors that do not result in death, but result in serious injuries.
If you feel your doctor is not attentive to your medical needs, don’t be afraid to get a second opinion.