The state of a physician’s mental health could very strongly influence his risk of committing medical errors.
According to the results of a new study conducted by a group of psychiatrists, symptoms of depression in doctors are often not identified or treated, and this places patients at risk of injury or harm as a result of a medical error. The psychiatrists say that depression is not uncommon among physicians, given their high –stress jobs, the constant pressure that they are under, and the hectic work schedules that they adhere to. Lack of motivation and morale and other factors also contribute to feelings of depression in physicians.
Not only are doctors at risk for depression, but they may also be less likely to seek treatment for their symptoms. Besides, the researchers also found there is a lack of organizational intervention that can identify when doctors are at risk of adverse mental health symptoms, and intervene to help them get the mental health support they require.
All of these factors combined can have an adverse effect on patient safety. Depressed doctors may be irritable and may lack concentration, possibly increasing the risks to patients. Medical errors are already a major concern in the healthcare sector, with as many as 250,000 patients a year, harmed as the result of a medical error.
There have been other studies that have pointed to the risk of depression and symptoms of mental health problems in doctors. In one study conducted by Medscape, at least 44 percent of the responding physicians admitted that they had suffered symptoms of burnout, while 11 percent admitted to being “colloquially depressed” and 4 percent admitted to suffering symptoms of clinical depression. While 47 percent insisted that their depression did not affect their care of patients, 35 percent admitted that were frequently exasperated at patients, and 26 percent admitted that were less careful with patient care as a result of their state of mind. Even more worrying was the fact that 14 percent admitted to committing preventable medical errors as a result of their mental condition.
Simple intervention strategies, like holistic workplace exercise and wellness programs, and encouraging rest and relaxation can help physicians cope with the stresses of their occupation without sinking into depression. Hospitals need to have comprehensive mental health programs in place that will help physicians deal with burnout and other risk factors for depression before these symptoms begin to affect the physician’s performance.