Medical Malpractice Lawyer

Many Medical Errors Caused by Doctor Burnout

A new national survey shows that more than half of American doctors are burned out, and therefore are more likely to make medical mistakes.

Nearly 6,700 physicians were asked about “medical errors, workplace safety, and symptoms of workplace burnout, fatigue, depression and suicidal thoughts.” This poll found that over 10 percent of the 6,700 had made at least one major medical mistake in the preceding three months. Another conclusion reached was that those physicians suffering from burnout were twice as likely to make a medical mistake

Dr. Daniel Tawfik (instructor in pediatric critical care at Stanford University’s School of Medicine) says, “Burnout is a reversible work-related syndrome characterized by emotional exhaustion and/or cynicism, often featuring decreased effectiveness.” (Healthday)

Symptoms of burnout are not usually obvious to the sufferer. Per Dike Drummond, MD, here are the warning signs that a doctor is suffering from burnout:

Physical signs of burnout:

  • Feeling tired or drained most of the time
  • Tiredness that rest does not help
  • Low immune system – feeling sick a lot
  • Frequent aches and pain
  • Change in appetite or sleep habits
  • Drop in libido or impotence

Emotional signs of burnout:

  • Self-doubt and sense of failure
  • Feeling helpless, trapped, and defeated
  • Detachment, feeling alone
  • Loss of motivation
  • Increasingly cynical and negative outlook
  • Decreased satisfaction and sense of accomplishment
  • Activities you used to enjoy are no longer fun

Behavioral signs of burnout:

  • Withdrawing from responsibilities
  • Isolating yourself from others
  • Procrastinating
  • Coping by use of food, drugs, or alcohol
  • Cynicism and a negative attitude towards your patients and co-workers
  • Taking out your frustrations on others
  • Driving aggressively
  • Snapping at others
  • Missing work or coming in late/leaving early

Tawfic said a “multi-pronged approach will be needed to reverse the tide of physician burnout.” Physicians need to make taking care of themselves a priority. They also need to “limit work hours, paperwork overload and undue stress.”

A survey conducted in 2018 by Medscape showed that 39% of physicians in South Carolina reported burnout. Keep in mind, burnout symptoms are not always obvious to the sufferer.

One reason for physician burnout in South Carolina is physician shortage. “Every county in South Carolina is designated as medically underserved, at least in part, according to the state Department of Health and Environmental Control.” (Greenville News)

According to the Greenville Health System, this shortage is due to a combination of factors:

  1. An aging population, which means more chronic disease
  2. An aging physician workforce
  3. A maldistribution of physicians in urban versus rural areas
  4. Changing work patterns of physicians, even with age

To alleviate a growing physician shortfall, “we need to continue to address both supply and demand, to educate more healthcare providers, to train more physicians and surgeons and to develop and embrace new models of healthcare delivery. The health of South Carolinians and of the country will depend on optimizing these strategies.”


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