The Emotional Impact of Medical Errors on Practicing Physicians in the United States and Canada

Authors: Waterman, Amy D.; Garbutt, Jane; Hazel, Erik; Dunagan, William Claiborne; Levinson, Wendy; Fraser, Victoria J.; Gallagher, Thomas H.

Source: Joint Commission Journal on Quality and Patient Safety, Volume 33, Number 8, August 2007 , pp. 467-476(10)

Publisher: Joint Commission Resources

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Background: Being involved in medical errors can compound the job-related stress many physicians experience. The impact of errors on physicians was examined.

Methods: A survey completed by 3,171 of the 4,990 eligible physicians in internal medicine, pediatrics, family medicine, and surgery (64% response rate) examined how errors affected five work and life domains.

Results: Physicians reported increased anxiety about future errors (61%), loss of confidence (44%), sleeping difficulties (42%), reduced job satisfaction (42%), and harm to their reputation (13%) following errors. Physicians' job-related stress increased when they had been involved with a serious error. However, one third of physicians only involved with near misses also reported increased stress. Physicians were more likely to be distressed after serious errors when they were dissatisfied with error disclosure to patients (odds ratio [OR] = 3.86, confidence interval [CI] = 1.66, 9.00), perceived a greater risk of being sued (OR = .28, CI = 1.50, 3.48), spent greater than 75% time in clinical practice (OR = 2.20, CI = 1.60, 3.01), or were female (OR = 1.91, CI = 1.21, 3.02). Only 10% agreed that health care organizations adequately supported them in coping with error-related stress.

Discussion: Many physicians experience significant emotional distress and job-related stress following serious errors and near misses. Organizational resources to support physicans after errors should be improved.

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: August 1, 2007

More about this publication?
  • Published monthly, The Joint Commission Journal on Quality and Patient Safety is a peer-reviewed publication dedicated to providing health professionals with the information they need to promote the quality and safety of health care. The Joint Commission Journal on Quality and Patient Safety invites original manuscripts on the development, adaptation, and/or implementation of innovative thinking, strategies, and practices in improving quality and safety in health care. Case studies, program or project reports, reports of new methodologies or new applications of methodologies, research studies on the effectiveness of improvement interventions, and commentaries on issues and practices are all considered.

    Also known as Joint Commission Journal on Quality Improvement and Joint Commission Journal on Quality and Safety
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