ROCHESTER, Minn. – In a major study by the Mayo Clinic, nearly one out of 10 surgeons had reportedly made a major medical error related to burnout in the last three months.
The findings appear today in the online edition of Annals of Surgery. The Mayo Clinic-led study included collaborators from Johns Hopkins and the American College of Surgeons.
In the confidential study, 9 percent percent of U.S. surgeons responding said they made a major error in the three months prior to being surveyed. Over 70 percent attributed the error to themselves rather than a systemic or organizational cause. Results showed that emotional exhaustion, depersonalization and perception personal accomplishments were related to errors was was a surgeon’s “mental quality of life” including depression.
“These results suggest that a surgeon’s personal mental health including burnout may have an effect on quality of care,” says lead author Tait Shanafelt, M.D., in a press release. “Our aim is to encourage more research to find ways to reduce distress among surgeons and to provide better support when errors occur.”
The survey had 7,905 surgeons participating. 700 of them reported making major errors. All participating surgeons also completed standardized survey tools to measure burnout, quality of life and symptoms of depression.
Researchers say they found no relation between errors and the work setting, method of compensation, number of nights on call per week, or hours worked. According to researchers, that finding suggests that reducing work hours for practicing surgeons may have little impact on limiting errors unless burnout is also addressed. The study has limitations, as it relies on self-perception of errors and did not show a causal relationship.
Study authors included Charles Balch, M.D., and Julie Freischlag, M.D., from Johns Hopkins; Gerald Bechamps, M.D., Winchester Surgical Clinic; Tom Russell, M.D., and Paul Collicott, M.D., American College of Surgeons; and Lotte Dyrbye, M.D., Daniel Satele, Paul Novotny, and Jeff Sloan, Ph.D., all from Mayo Clinic. The study was commissioned and supported by the American College of Surgeons. Dr. Bechamps was chairman of the ACS Committee on Physician Competency and Health at the time of the survey. Drs. Freischlag, Balch, and Collicott are all Fellows of the ACS.