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“We found that physicians with burnout had more than twice the odds of self-reported medical error, after adjusting for specialty, work hours, fatigue and work unit safety rating,” coauthor Daniel Tawfik explained. “We also found that low safety grades in work units were associated with three to four times the odds of medical error.”
Their research also showed that rates of self-reported medical errors tripled in medical work units, even “extremely safe” ones, if doctors working on that unit had high levels of burnout. Therefore, the scientists believe burnout level and work unit safety are both factors for medical error risk.
“Up until just recently, the prevailing thought was that if medical errors are occurring, you need to fix the workplace safety with things like checklists and better teamwork,” Tawfik said. “This study shows that that is probably insufficient. We need a two-pronged approach to reduce medical errors that also addresses physician burnout.”
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