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How physician burnout leads to surgical errors

Surgical errors and other types of medical malpractice happen for numerous reasons, from poor recordkeeping to a lack of communication. Sometimes, providers are outright neglectful or abusive, whereas other times the mistakes are unintentional yet happen anyway due to factors such as carelessness or time constraints.

One cause for unintentional (though still unacceptable) errors is physician burnout. Doctors feel overwhelmed at the amount of work they have to do and the stress that comes along with their duties.

Why are physicians burnt out?

First of all, there are not enough doctors to treat the number of patients they receive. The Association of American Medical Colleges reports that by 2030, there will be a projected shortage of 120,000 doctors in primary care and specialties, including surgical. It is mostly due to an increase in the aging population. Providers stretch themselves thin to meet the demand, sometimes with additional pressure from hospitals to meet a certain quota.

Second, according to a Medscape survey, doctors blamed bureaucratic tasks as the number one cause of burnout, shares the American Medical Association. Paperwork takes up valuable time, energy and mental effort that doctors could put into the actual care of their patients.

Which types of doctors experience the most burnout?

Not all physicians experience burnout at the same frequency. Those in the following fields had the highest rates according to the same survey: urology, neurology, physical medicine and rehabilitation, internal medicine, emergency medicine, and family medicine. In addition, general surgeons and urologists were the likeliest to work long hours. Lack of sufficient rest raises the risk of making major mistakes.

How do providers manage burnout?

Although they are medical professionals, they do not always make healthy choices when it comes to dealing with exhaustion and stress. In fact, fewer than 50% exercise, and only 43% talk to loved ones, whereas 42% choose isolation instead of connection, 32% consume junk food and 23% intake alcoholic beverages. This lack of self-care affects how they perform while on the job.

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