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Depressed doctors more likely to report making medical errors


A review of 11 different studies found that physicians with a positive screening for depression were highly likely to report medical errors.

Depressed doctors are more likely to report making medical errors, according to a review of 11 different studies.

The review looked at peer-reviewed empirical studies that reported on a valid measure of physician depressive symptoms associated with perceived or observed medical errors that included 21,517 doctors.

It found that the overall relative risk estimate for medical errors among physicians with positive screenings for depression was 1.95 and that medical errors associated with subsequent depressive symptoms had a pooled relative risk estimate of 1.67. This suggests the association between depressive symptoms in doctors and medical errors goes both ways.

This finding is important due to the harm caused to patients by medical errors. The study cites estimates that between 98,000 and 251,000 hospitalized patients die each year as a result of a preventable medical errors.

The authors of the review write that the relative risk estimates could inform public health decision-making on strategies to improve both the patients’ safety and doctors’ wellbeing. The review also says that several studies indicate that individual and work environment intervention can stop the development of depressive symptoms among doctors.

As Medical Economics has previously reported, there are some practices that doctors and medical students can integrate into their lives to help prevent burnout and depression. These include:

·      Nutrition – Making sure to eat whole foods with a balance of nutrients and possibly sharing that meal with family or friends

·      Exercise – Even as little as 10 to 15 minutes of working out can cut down on the symptoms of anxiety or depression

·      Sleep – While getting enough sleep is important, it is also key to practice good sleep hygiene by not looking at screens or watching intense television shows before bed

·      Nontoxic relationships – support from family members, friends, and colleagues nurtured during scheduled activities can provide support to a doctor, while relationships that are toxic or emotionally draining can have the opposite effect

·      Mindful self-compassion – A physician should pay attention to how they talk to themselves and use that self-reflection to counteract external negativity

The review authors suggest that more research should be done on the association of depressive symptoms in doctors and objective measures of medical errors, like active surveillance, as well as broadening the study to include doctors across the world. They also identify to what degree interventions mitigate medical errors as a field worthy of further study

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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