- Physician depression is correlated with a greater prevalence of medical errors, according to a new survey-related study in JAMA Network Open. Researchers surveyed 11 prior studies involving more than 21,500 physicians to reach their conclusion.
- But the report had limitations. Eight of the previous studies surveyed only involved medical interns or residents. All of the studies involved self-reported medical errors and were not necessarily verifiable.
- Nonetheless, the study's authors urged healthcare institutions to remove barriers that may keep doctors suffering with depression from obtaining help.
For physicians, the combination of long hours, often grueling medical procedures and lives on the line can create an enormous amount of stress. That can take a toll on mental health, and many doctors say they suffer from depression. A Medscape survey from last year indicated 71% of doctors are suffering from some form of burnout, depression or both.
Up to 400 doctors in the U.S. kill themselves every year, according to a study on that topic. And given depression can dull mental acuity, that puts clinicians at risk for committing medical errors.
Researchers from the University of Michigan School of Medicine, Federal University of So Paulo, the University of Sao Paulo and Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center undertook a survey of prior studies linking medical errors to depression among physicians.
For the most part, the studies showed a fairly consistent link between physician depression and medical errors. Altogether, they showed that physicians who were depressed were nearly twice as likely to commit a medical error than doctors who did not suffer from depression. The study noted that "depressive symptoms are highly prevalent among physicians."
The survey of the prior studies also indicated that depression was also linked to medical errors that may be committed in the future, noting "physician well-being is critical to patient safety."
"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," researchers wrote.
Some hospitals and healthcare systems are taking initiative, creating the position of chief wellness officer to deal with the issue of depression among doctors and other clinicians. However, many consider them the exceptions that prove the rule.