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Study finds burnout among doctors could lead to medical errors, deaths

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PHOENIX — A doctor’s mental and well-being could affect the care patients receive, a new study found.

The study by the Institute of Medicine found medical errors contribute to about 100,000 to 200,000 deaths per year, and burnout among doctors could be a major cause.

Researchers surveyed nearly 6,700 doctors and found more than half reported symptoms of burnout.

One in 10 doctors also said they had made a major medical error during three months leading up to the survey.

Researchers concluded medical errors are more than twice as likely to happen if a doctor has signs of burnout.

“We need to understand that the problem of burnout isn’t a problem with the doctors,” Dr. Cynthia Stonnington, chair of psychiatry and psychology at the Mayo Clinic in Arizona, said.

Instead, Stonnington said, it has more to do with doctors seeing an increase in their workload, including having to fill out electronic health records and meeting additional documentation requirements.

“All that time that doctors end up spending takes away from the reason that they started in medicine, which is connecting with their patients,” she said.

The study also looked at suicide rates among doctors. It found 6.5 percent of the doctors surveyed said they had thoughts of suicide within the last year.

Stonnington said one of the problems is doctors are usually “not so good about seeking help,” partly because it’s difficult for them to view themselves as patients. But she said the Mayo Clinic is working to change that, as well as taking steps to address burnout among doctors.

Mayo Clinic provides lounges and social events to bring doctors together to encourage them to discuss common issues and build social support. Stonnington said she helped create a support group for doctors who are moms.

The clinic also regularly measures the burnout rates among doctors and provides intervention to those who need it. It also works to maximize doctors’ efficiency and to minimize clerical burden on doctors.

Plus, it provides leadership development and provides resources to promote well-being.