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Study links frequent doctor burnout with malpractice

According to a study recently published in Mayo Clinic Proceedings, more than half of all doctors in Iowa and across the U.S. suffer from burnout. This is a condition that many workers in high-stress environments develop, and it is characterized by physical fatigue, emotional exhaustion and depression. Burnout has a negative impact on doctor performance, often leading to medical mistakes.

Researchers conducted a poll of 6,700 clinic and hospital physicians. Each subject was asked if they committed a medical mistake in the past three months, how safe their workplace is and whether they experience depression, fatigue or suicidal thoughts. Over 10 percent said they did commit a medical mistake, and burnout symptoms were more frequent among this group. In all, doctors suffering from burnout were two times as likely to commit errors. Only 4 percent of doctors described their workplace safety levels as either "poor" or "failing."

The most common errors, authors found, were issues in medical judgment and technical mistakes during medical procedures. For example, doctors might prescribe the wrong drugs, fail to order important lab tests and expose patients to the risk of infection. The study suggests that medical centers should put a limit on work hours and paperwork load as the first practical step to reducing burnout.

Those who believe they have the grounds for a medical malpractice claim may want to speak with an attorney. If necessary, legal counsel could request an inquiry with the local medical board and hire experts to determine the extent of the injuries. The victim could ultimately receive a settlement covering past and future medical expenses, lost income and more.

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