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Physician Medical Errors Linked to Fatigue and Burnout

Last Updated: September 22, 2009.

The incidence of medical error is associated with a host of factors related to physician fatigue, burnout, and mental and emotional well-being, according to a study in the Sept. 23/30 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

TUESDAY, Sept. 22 (HealthDay News) -- The incidence of medical error is associated with a host of factors related to physician fatigue, burnout, and mental and emotional well-being, according to a study in the Sept. 23/30 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Colin P. West, M.D., of the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., and colleagues administered quarterly surveys to 380 internal medicine residents from the start of their training between 2003 and 2008 through 2009. The respondents provided information on self-perceived quality of life, fatigue, and incidence of medical errors. The respondents also completed the Maslach Burnout Inventory, the PRIME-MD depression screening instrument, and the Epworth Sleepiness Scale. The researchers analyzed the incidence of self-perceived major medical errors and associations with quality of life, fatigue, burnout, and depressive symptoms.

The researchers found that 39 percent of respondents providing error information reported making at least one major medical error during the time span of the study. Self-reported errors were associated with sleepiness, fatigue, burnout (including depersonalization, emotional exhaustion, and low personal accomplishment), depressive symptoms, and quality of life.

"In summary, this study suggests that fatigue, sleepiness, burnout, depression, and reduced quality of life are independently associated with an increased risk of future self-perceived major medical errors. In addition to the national efforts to reduce fatigue and sleepiness, well-designed interventions to prevent, identify, and treat distress among physicians are needed," the authors write.

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