Depression in physicians linked to medical errors, study shows

As the clinician burnout epidemic continues, a new JAMA report shows how provider well-being is critical to patient safety.
By Nathan Eddy
10:14 AM

Physician depression has implications for the quality of care delivered by them and they are highly likely to report medical errors, according to a report based on an analysis of 11 studies involving more than 21,500 physicians.

WHY IT MATTERS
The University of Michigan Medical School in Ann Arbor study, which was published in JAMA Network Open, also indicated the medical errors caused by depression would lead to further depression and additional medical errors.

"The bidirectional associations between physician depressive symptoms and perceived medical errors verified by this meta-analysis suggest that physician well-being is critical to patient safety," the study's authors wrote.

The report also pointed to previous research that indicated investments in patient safety have been associated with significant reductions in health care costs.

The results of the meta-study underscored the need for "systematic efforts" to prevent or reduce depressive symptoms among physicians – several studies with physicians have already identified potential individual and work environment sources of interventions to prevent the development of depression among physicians.

Researchers noted that further studies would be required to investigate whether systematic interventions for reducing depressive symptoms could be factors in decreased medical errors

The report also recommended additional study to help uncover which interventions for reducing physician depressive symptoms could mitigate medical errors, and improve physician wellbeing and patient care.

THE LARGER TREND
Other studies have pointed to technologies like electronic health records contributing to physician burnout.

That was the conclusion of a November study published in Mayo Clinic Proceedings, which pointed to the "demoralizing effects" cumbersome EHRs have on physicians, and encumber provision of first-rate medical care to patients.

On top of poor EHR usability, physicians cite administrative burdens such as prior authorization, regulatory headaches, documentation requirements, malpractice concerns and the rise of consumerism.

A Philips study also published in November revealed radiology staff across the United States, UK, Germany and France are reporting high levels of burnout and stress.

Meanwhile, the American Medical Association ramped up its efforts in the fight against physician burnout with the September launch of its Practice Transformation Initiative, a project that aims to advance evidence-based solutions that increase joy in medicine.

ON THE RECORD
"Given that few physicians with depression seek treatment and that recent evidence has pointed to the lack of organizational interventions aimed at reducing physician depressive symptoms our findings underscore the need for institutional policies to remove barriers to the delivery of evidence-based treatment to physicians with depression," the report's lead author Karina Pereira-Lima wrote.

Nathan Eddy is a healthcare and technology freelancer based in Berlin.
Email the writer: nathaneddy@gmail.com
Twitter: @dropdeaded209

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