Do Depressed Doctors Cause Medical Errors?
Mental illnesses such as depression can make it difficult to perform the vigorous duties associated with practicing medicine. A sharp mind is important for health care workers who are tasked with upholding patient safety.
Unfortunately, physicians and other health care workers are more depressed than the general population. A recent article in the Huffington Post explored this idea, claiming almost 30 percent of physicians in training suffer from depression. To put this into reference, only 6 percent of the general population has depression.
Why Depression May Cause Medical Errors
Prior studies by the American Medical Association have attributed depression with a higher rate of medical errors. In a study of 2,300 new doctors published in JAMA Medicine, it was discovered that depressive symptoms caused a 15 to 20 percent higher risk of causing medical errors. An additional study performed by the American College of Surgeons found medical errors were strongly associated with burnout, depression, depersonalization and a lowered sense of personal accomplishment.
A connection between depressed physicians and medical errors is not surprising, as the symptoms of depression include trouble thinking and difficulty remembering things. This is a terrible combination of symptoms for an aspiring doctor. The JAMA Medicine study gives several reasons why new doctors are so depressed, such as isolation and 80-hour work weeks that are common in the professional environment after medical school.
Although it is important for new doctors to be thrust into the health care field by working long hours for extended periods of time, patient safety should never be neglected.