For the assessment, the analysts surveyed physicians in active practice across the U.S., and nearly 6,700 people replied. Of the responses, 55 percent reported symptoms of burnout, which can include exhaustion, cynicism and feelings of reduced effectiveness. Furthermore, 10 percent said they had made at least one major medical error during the prior three months.
“We found that physicians with burnout had more than twice the odds of self-reported medical error, after adjusting for specialty, work hours, fatigue and work unit safety rating,” co-author Daniel Tawfik said. “We also found that low safety grades in work units were associated with three to four times the odds of medical error.”
Their research also showed that rates of medical errors tripled in medical work units, even “extremely safe” ones, if doctors working on that unit had high levels of burnout. Therefore, the scientists believe burnout level and work unit safety are both factors for medical error risk.
“Up until just recently, the prevailing thought was that, if medical errors are occurring, you need to fix the workplace safety with things like checklists and better teamwork,” Tawfik said.
"This study shows that that is probably insufficient. We need a two-pronged approach to reduce medical errors that also addresses physician burnout."