Study Suggests Physicians Who are Depressed Make more Errors
Recent research reveals that burnout and depression are common in the medical profession. Physicians who are depressed are more likely to make medical errors.
In a survey by Medscape of more than 15,000 physicians across the US, 44 percent reported they were “burned out,” 11 percent agreed they were “colloquially depressed,” and four percent agreed they were clinically depressed. In the survey, “burned out” is described as enduring “unresolvable job stress that leads to exhaustion,” while “colloquially depressed” refers to “feeling down or sad.”
In this study alone, 59 percent of respondents agree they are experiencing notable, potentially “unresolvable” job-related stress and depression.
A recently published study in JAMA Network explored whether depressive symptoms experienced by physicians could impact medical decisions and result in medical error. The answer is yes. Together these two studies paint a potentially grim picture for medical care in the US.
The danger of depressed healthcare providers
In the JAMA study, researchers from the Michigan Medical School in Ann Arbor performed a meta-analysis of data involving 21,517 physicians to better understand the impact of depression on clinical care.
Study authors note that between 98,000 to 251,000 hospitalized patients die each year due to a preventable medical error or “adverse event.” This relatively silent epidemic is indiscriminately injuring and killing hundreds of thousands of people each year, and yet very little is reported on the topic other than singular headlines about a notable jury decision for an injured patient.
The research also notes medical errors contribute to death and cost hospital systems upwards of billions of dollars each year.
Some conclusions of the study include the following:
- Depression is experienced by treating physicians and training physicians at about the same rate. This suggests depression is as likely to impact the decisions of an experienced physician as it is a sleep-deprived resident.
- Medical errors are associated with physicians experiencing depression. Medical errors are also associated with future symptoms of depression in physicians. Thus, depression can influence a physician to make a medical error. A medical error can also trigger depression in the responsible physician.
- Few physicians seek treatment for depression, either before or after they make a serious medical error.
While the authors suggest the need for further research on interventions, no solutions are suggested to stem the tide of depression or the damaging medical errors that result.
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