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Mayo Clinic Study Finds Doctors' Medical Mistakes Increase When Fatigued or Distressed

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Mayo Clinic researchers aren’t the first to discover some of the main causes of medical errors among medical residents, including fatigue and distress. However, a recent study by The Mayo Clinic also found that financial woes, family concerns and other elements of distress contributed to medical mistakes by medical residents.

The researchers surveyed 430 internal medicine residents, posing questions that specifically asked about medical errors, as well as the residents’ quality of life, fatigue, burnout, depression, and sleepiness. Of the 378 doctors who responded to the survey, 39% reported having made a medical error. Moreover, the link between fatigue and errors was evident: for every point increase in the fatigue score, doctors were 14% more likely to make a medical error. Similarly, for every point increase in the sleepiness score, doctors were 10% more likely to make a mistake.

The report, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, outlines how each specific type of stressor in medical residents contributes to mistakes. In fact, according to the report, fatigue, lower quality of life, burnout, and depression all independently led to medical errors among internal medicine residents. Unfortunately, thus far, physician training has emphasized fatigue as the main factor contributing to medical errors. However, from the research, The Mayo Clinic researchers were able to recommend training guidelines to combat the impact of other outside stressors on medical errors. Specifically, the researchers emphasize that physician training should continue to address resident fatigue, but other distress factors should also be addressed to help improve patient safety.

Nearly 100,000 people in the U.S. die each year from preventable medical errors. Currently, no mechanism exists to deal with the distress residents experience, or to monitor whether a hospital is complying with regulations to keep doctors from working for too many hours. The Mayo Clinic research is an important step in helping put theory into practice to create a safer medical environment for doctors and patients alike.