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Study links depressed doctors with medical errors


Matt Woodley


19/12/2019 2:38:31 PM

Researchers believe the finding underscores the need for systematic efforts to prevent or reduce depressive symptoms among physicians.

Man with a concerned expression.
Depressive symptoms were associated with nearly twice the rate of self-reported medical errors.

The systematic review and meta-analysis of 11 studies involved more than 21,000 doctors. It demonstrated an association between physician depressive symptoms and an increased risk for perceived medical errors.
 
The review found depressive symptoms were associated with nearly twice the rate of self-reported medical errors, such as prescribing the wrong medication, while those who reported more medical errors subsequently had more depressive symptoms.
 
General practice registrar and doctor wellbeing advocate Dr Rebekah Hoffman told newsGP the study emphasises the importance of doctors being seen for any mental health concerns.
 
‘GPs are experts in managing everyday stress through to major depressive illnesses, and it’s important that all doctors have a GP, and see them regularly so any symptoms can be identified and managed appropriately,’ she said.
 
‘Any barriers, policies or processes that prevent any heath professional staff, or really anyone in the population, from seeking medical care for a mental health illness, or any factors that may contribute to a mental health illness, is detrimental.
 
‘As GPs, we should be making accessing medical care easier, not harder.’
 
Eight of the studies included in the meta-analysis involved only doctors-in-training, while three recruited physicians from any career level.
 
While Dr Hoffman said the results broadly point to the importance of GP wellbeing, she also expressed caution about extrapolating them into an Australian context.
 
‘From a GP perspective, none of the studies were Australian-based, or focused on general practice or family medicine,’ she said.
 
‘All were hospital-based and there is no clear way to link this study to concerns within the GP population.’
 
The authors said the bidirectional associations between physician depressive symptoms and perceived medical errors suggest physician wellbeing is ‘critical’ to patient care.
 
‘Governmental, legal, and medical institutions must work collaboratively to remove the culture of blame while retaining accountability,’ they wrote.
 
‘When this challenge is met, healthcare institutions will not be constrained from measuring targets for process improvement, including all errors, even with adverse outcomes.
 
‘Further … research should investigate whether systematic interventions for reducing depressive symptoms could be factors in decreased medical errors.’
 
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