The emotional effects of medical errors on physicians

Physicians—particularly surgeons—hold themselves to high standards of excellence, reports the August 2007 issue of The Joint Commission Journal on Quality and Patient Safety. As a result, medical errors produce high levels of stress, anxiety, and sleep loss in most doctors, according to the results of a survey of more than 3,000 physicians in the United States and Canada.

The survey—which was conducted between July 2003 and June 2004 and included internal medicine, pediatric, family medicine physicians as well as surgeons—asked about the physicians’ experiences with medical errors and error disclosure. Physicians were divided into three groups depending on the types of error that had occurred: “near miss” (7 percent), “minor error” (36 percent), and “serious error” (57 percent).

More than 80 percent of physicians experienced at least one form of emotional distress or job-related stress after making an error. The most common reactions included increased anxiety about making future errors (61 percent), loss of confidence (44 percent), reduced level of job satisfaction (42 percent), difficulties with sleep (42 percent), and a concern about harm to their reputation (13 percent).

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