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Physician Burnout: Doctors In Smaller Practices Less Likely To Commit Medical Errors

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Physician burnout poses a twofold risk of medical error, higher than the rate associated with unsafe healthcare settings if not equal to.

The study, published in the Mayo Clinic Proceedings, determined physician as the cause of medical errors, but authors said it can be reciprocal to unsafe workplace settings.

Researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine cited that perceived medical errors are found to be directly related to doctor burnout and vice versa.

"Many system-level changes have been implemented to improve safety for patients in our medical workplaces. What we find in this study is that physician burnout levels appear to be equally, if not more, important than the work unit safety score to the risk of medical errors occurring," said Dr. Tait Shanafelt, the associate dean of the School of Medicine and the director of the Stanford WellMD Center.

Fifty five percent or 3,574 physicians in the United States out of 6,695 who responded to the survey said they experienced symptoms of burnout. Ten percent said to have committed at least one major medical error in the past three months. They adjusted for specialty, fatigue, work hours, and work unit safety.

To ensure the safety and quality of medical care, key decision makers should first address the factors that lead to burnout of all the healthcare workers.

Physician Burnout Rare In Small Practice

Meanwhile, physicians that work in small, independent practice are less likely to experience symptoms of burnout. A study published in the Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine reported that 13.5 percent of physicians who practice in small, independent practices in New York City reported feeling burnout.

Doctors who work in smaller workplace settings tend to have better psychological well-being compared with their counterparts. This is mainly because smaller practices provide physicians with more independence and autonomy, according to Dr. Donna Shelley, vice chair for research at New York University School of Medicine.

"The relationship between adaptive reserve and provider burnout suggests that interventions to reduce burnout in primary care practices should focus on strengthening factors that support organizational capacity for change (i.e., strong communication, leadership supports innovation)," the study authors said.

More research is needed to address the complex interplay of individuals, their workplace, and other organizational factors. Dr. Daniel Tawfik, an instructor in pediatric critical care medicine at Stanford said addressing safety of the workplace setting should be done together with resolving physician burnout to reduce the rates of medical errors.

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