No surprise here: Medical errors increase doctors' stress

December 1, 2007

When a medical error occurs, it's not just the patient and her family who suffer; physicians suffer too.

When a medical error occurs, it's not just the patient and her family who suffer; physicians suffer too. That's according to a study published in the August issue of The Joint Commission Journal on Quality and Patient Safety. The study, "The Emotional Impact of Medical Errors on Practicing Physicians in the United States and Canada," examined the impact of errors on more than 3,100 US and Canadian physicians.

The vast majority of respondents (92%) said that they had been involved in a minor or serious error, or a near miss. As a result, respondents reported increased anxiety about future errors (61%), loss of confidence (44%), sleeping difficulties (42%), reduced job satisfaction (42%), and harm to their reputation (13%). In addition, the more severe the error, the more likely the physician was affected.

Although 82% of physicians surveyed said they would be interested in receiving counseling after an error or near-miss, only 10% said their health-care organization provided such support. The findings suggest that hospitals and other organizations need to broaden the sources of support for physicians.

Still, even if counseling was made available, respondents identified several barriers. More than 40% of physicians surveyed said finding time for counseling would be difficult, and 23% thought it could affect their malpractice insurance costs.