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Depressed Doctors at Higher Risk of Medical Errors

Depression affects millions of people in the U.S.  Depression can sometimes be caused by life events such as job burn-out.  When a doctor suffers from burnout-related depression, a patient’s safety may be compromised.

According to the results of a new study, doctors who are depressed may be at a higher risk of making medical errors that threaten patient safety. The study which was published recently in the JAMA Network Open, finds that depressed doctors are more likely to report medical errors. The study also finds that these medical errors actually increase the risk of the doctor committing even more serious errors in the future.  These medical errors can result in a medical malpractice claim.

Several earlier studies have indicated that physicians are at a high risk of mental problems, like depression, due to a number of factors. Physician burnout is a very real phenomenon, and can be linked to heavy caseloads, stressful work environments and high pressure challenges that can lead to feelings of irritability, lack of morale and motivation and feelings of hopelessness. Many studies have pointed to certain fields of medicine that are more prone to high stress levels, like oncology and surgery.

These high stress levels, if left untreated, can lead to feelings of depression. Many doctors assume that high stress and anxiety are to be expected in their occupation, and fail to seek treatment when they begin experiencing symptoms of burnout. When that happens, depression can quickly set in. The JAMA study focused on more than 21,000 doctors, and found that many reported medical errors.  These errors were more likely to be committed by depressed doctors. Moreover, errors could also lead to more depression, and an even higher risk of medical errors. Thus, this makes for a vicious cycle.

Hospitals have become more alert to the increased risk stemming from doctors who are not on top of their mental health, and have begun taking steps to create healthier environments for physicians. This includes helping them handle common stress factors like poor usability of Electronic Health Records systems, documentation and regulatory stress and other avoidable hazards. Electronic hospital record systems are now a standard feature in most hospitals, and many doctors find it stressful to deal with this new technology. Documentation requirements and regulatory demands are also frequent stress triggers for doctors who then go on to experience burnout and depression. These risks can be mitigated by hospitals through a number of measures.

The American Medical Association now takes the risk to patients from burned-out and depressed doctors very seriously, and has recently launched an effort to bring the joy back into the practice of medicine. The initiative is called Practice Transformation Initiative and is designed to provide evidence- based solutions to common physician stress triggers.

Patients can be in danger when a depressed or burnt -out doctor is in charge of their care. If your loved one has suffered an injury as a result of medical negligence, talk to an Atlanta medical malpractice lawyer at the Katz Law Firm, and discuss your options for a legal claim for damages. You could qualify for a claim against the Atlanta healthcare provider and the hospital, and may be eligible for damages that include medical costs, lost income and pain and suffering.

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