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34% of doctors report increased medical errors due to staffing shortages


Worldwide, physicians are seeing their mental health suffer, with 75% reporting high stress

The mental health of health care professionals in six Western nations shows that chronic staffing shortages are affecting both patient care and the mental well-being of physicians.

More than a third (34%) of responding physicians reported an increase in medical errors due to staff shortages, with that number increasing to 58% in Spain. Three-quarters say patients are worried about the quality and safety of care, and 58% say staffing issues impact the mental health of patients.

The mental health of doctors isn’t faring much better. More than half of physcians report feeling frustrated (65%), burnt out (54%), and unappreciated (52%) in the past three months. Over 50% of them are so impacted by chronic stress that they say they have considered leaving their profession in the past three months.

Data are from Survey Healthcare Global (SHG), and were sourced Feb. 14-16, 2022, from six of the most pandemic-impacted medical specialties in the U.S., UK, France, Germany, Italy and Spain.

“When physicians voice such strong concern about medical errors and the quality of patient care, health care leaders must take notice and redouble efforts to address the root causes of the staffing shortage,” said Daniel S. Fitzgerald, CEO of Apollo, parent to SHG, in a statement.

For the top contributors to their strained mental health, respondents rank constant stress (34%) and staff shortages (30%) as the leading factors. 18% report that they are more likely to drink, smoke, or use/abuse substances as a result. Yet nearly 75% say their organizations do not offer any wellness resources and programs to employees.

While COVID is regarded as the biggest reason for staff shortages by respondents in five of six nations, burnout is the second largest cause, cited by between 26% and 40%, depending on country. However, 40% of respondents say that health care staffing shortages originated well before the pandemic.

Patients are also suffering as a result. Respondents report that staffing problems are creating longer patient wait times (80%) and decreasing the quality of care (69%). 72% say their patients have experienced delayed access to treatments, to routine visits (71%), and surgeries (59%). 56% say the resulting delays in diagnosis, care, surgery, and treatment have impacted patients’ physical health and increased pain and suffering (30%).

Respondents represented five specialties with sizable pandemic impact, including family medicine/general practice, emergency medicine, pediatrics, intensive/critical care, and surgery in relatively equal proportion. All respondents had experienced staffing shortages and mental health impacts as a result of staffing shortages. For more information download the report here.

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Jennifer N. Lee, MD, FAAFP
© National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health
© National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health
© National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health
© National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health
© National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health
© National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health