Study Finds Surgeon Burnout Associated With Medical Errors

Depersonalization, emotional exhaustion linked to higher chance of reporting recent errors
By Eric Metcalf
HealthDay Reporter

FRIDAY, Nov. 27 (HealthDay News) -- Among surgeons, degree of burnout was strongly associated with major medical errors, according to research published online Nov. 19 in the Annals of Surgery.

Tait D. Shanafelt, M.D., of the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., and colleagues analyzed data from 7,905 surgeons who responded to a survey asking about career satisfaction, burnout, depression, and major medical errors made in the previous three months.

The researchers found that nearly 9 percent reported recently making a major medical error. Reporting an error was associated with a higher risk of screening positive for depression and a clinically significant decline in mental quality-of-life score. Each one-point increase in depersonalization -- measured with the Maslach Burnout Inventory -- was associated with an 11 percent higher chance of reporting an error. Each additional point on an emotional exhaustion scale was associated with a 5 percent increase.

"Since the present study is cross-sectional, we are unable to determine whether distress causes errors or errors cause distress. The findings are consistent with previous prospective studies in internal medicine and pediatric residents which demonstrate an increased risk of future medical errors among distressed physicians and imply that surgeon distress is a contributing factor to medical errors as well as a consequence," the authors write.

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