One of the leading causes of death in the United States is health care.
That sounds absurd. But it’s true. Medical errors lead to some 200,000 American deaths a year.
If medical mistakes were a disease, they would be more deadly than Alzheimer’s and diabetes combined.i
That would make medical errors the third leading cause of death behind heart disease and cancer.ii
Here’s even worse news…
One of the main causes of medical mistakes is physician burnout. And during the COVID crisis, there is an epidemic of physician burnout.
“I’ve Never Seen Things This Bad”
A survey of doctors released in August found:iii
- 57% of male and 69% of female physicians report often feeling burned out.
- 57% of doctors report inappropriate feelings of anger, tearfulness, or anxiety because of the pandemic.
- 14% of doctors say they sought medical attention for a mental health problem during the COVID crisis.
- 20% of doctors say they know a physician who has considered, attempted, or died from suicide during the pandemic.
Deborah Burger has worked as a nurse for 45 years. “I’ve never seen things this bad,” she said.iv
In a previous study, researchers at Stanford University of Medicine surveyed more than 6,600 physicians. They found that doctors who report they are burned out are twice as likely to make medical errors.
More than 10% of doctors surveyed reported making a “major” medical error in the three months prior to the survey. One in 20 of these errors was fatal to the patient.
The most errors were made by neurosurgeons, radiologists, and emergency room doctors.v
Dr. Tait Shanafelt is an associate dean of the School of Medicine at Stanford. He was the senior author of the study.
The medical profession desperately needs “to address the epidemic of burnout among health care providers,” Dr. Shanafelt said.vi
How to Tell if Your Doctor Is Burned Out
Many health professionals now face massive workloads with long hours. They watch patients die on a daily basis. And they have to worry about contracting COVID from sick patients.
It’s no mystery why healthcare workers are hurting during the pandemic. They are true heroes who deserve our respect and gratitude. The next time you see a healthcare worker, thank them.
But at the same time, it’s important that you make sure your own doctor is holding it together. Your health—and possibly your life—may depend on it.
Ask these five questions to determine if your doctor is suffering burnout:
- Does your doctor work in a large practice? Only 13% of doctors in small, independent primary care practices report burnout. The national average is more than 50%, according to a study by the New York University School of Medicine. The independence and autonomy doctors enjoy in smaller practices may decrease burnout.vii
- Does your doctor pay attention? During appointments, does your doctor show active interest in your case? Does he or she seem mentally focused? Does your physician answer all your questions?
- Does he or she dismiss your complaints? A doctor should never blame ills on “old age” or “just stress” without giving you a real diagnosis. This is a sign he or she doesn’t have the time or energy to fully investigate your problem.
- Is he or she overbooked? Do you sit in the waiting room for long periods of time? Does he or she rush you through appointments? Doctors who stretch themselves too thin are more likely to suffer burnout.
- Are you getting better? If your health problem is not improving, don’t wait to take action. Your doctor should always tell you how long it will take before a treatment starts to work. If the deadline passes without improvement, and you’re told to just give the treatment more time, it’s a sign the doctor doesn’t have the energy to try something else.
And one more thing…
Ask your doctor how many patients he or she has. Less than 2,000 is best. Anything over 2,300 is a red flag that your doctor may be stretched too thin. Get the Latest Breaking News About Coronavirus Here
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