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Stress is a Major Factor in Emergency Room Medical Errors

Medical errors are one the leading causes of death in the United States, and accounts for about 250,000 deaths per year.  That number is almost half the population of the City of Atlanta.   In fact, it is estimated that about one third of the people admitted to a hospital will fall victim to a medical error.

Stressed-out doctors are at a great risk of making errors in the emergency room where even the smallest error can translate into a fatal mistake. Managing stress effectively is critical to reducing these risks.

A new study by the BMJ Open finds that the risk of errors increases with the stress level of doctors in the emergency room. In the study, researchers obtained blood and saliva samples of 20 residents working in an emergency room. They analyzed the samples which were obtained both before and after the emergency room shifts to understand the stress levels of the doctors. They also questioned the doctors about the number of patients they treated, the number of errors made, and the number of “near-miss” incidents they experienced. A “near-miss” incident was defined as an act of omission that could possibly cause harm to patients.

Analysis of the samples revealed that the doctors reporting the most number of “near-miss” incidents also experienced the highest levels of stress.

This indicates that stressed-out doctors are at a higher risk of making the kind of mistakes that have the potential to seriously harm a patient. The researchers also warn that doctors who are frequently stressed-out in emergency rooms burn out faster. Very few emergency room doctors continue to practice after the age of 50. Those high stress levels are not conducive to a healthy practice. There is a need for more research into how ER doctors can be trained to manage their stress better and minimize the impact of the stress on their work and patient safety.

Other studies have also pointed to the effect of stress on doctors in other medical environments, including the operating room where stress levels can also be very high. The Mayo Clinic advises that hospitals recognize that stress is a problem in many medical facilities, and have designed policies and protocols that will help doctors deal with the stress instead of simply ignoring the problem. In addition to encouraging a more work-life balance, the Mayo Clinic also advises that hospitals train “physician leaders” who can engage with and lead other physicians. Many of the stresses in emergency rooms involve residents who may be inadequately equipped to deal with critically ill victims and find that they have no senior physician to ask for guidance. Having guidance in the form of a physician leader may help reduce stress on residents.

The Atlanta medical malpractice lawyers at the Katz Law Firm represent people who have suffered injuries as a result of medical negligence in the metro Atlanta region and around Georgia.