Excessive workload among doctors undermines patient safety


Excessive workload among doctors undermines patient safety

Nearly half of doctors in the U.S. consider excessive workloads to be undermining the safety of their patients and the cause of a significant number of medical errors. The finding comes from a survey conducted by a group of researchers at Johns Hopkins University, their results were published by JAMA Internal Medicine.

Henry J. Michtalik, M.D., M.P.H., M.H.S., and his team surveyed a total of 506 hospital-based doctors using a popular medical networking website to assess the overall impact heavy workload has on patient safety and quality-of-care measures. The median age of the doctors was 38 and they earned an average of $180,000 per annum.

Heavy workload associated with mistakes

The results were found to be somewhat shocking in that it revealed the many consequences of giving doctors too much work.

According to the results of the survey, 40 percent of doctors believe that the number of patients that visited them over a period of one month often exceeded safe levels. 36 percent of these doctors reported a frequency of more than once a week.

There is an ever-growing problem of doctors having to take on more patients, especially as recent health reforms have given medical insurance coverage to another 30 million Americans.

In addition, 5 percent of the physicians reported that the heavy workload may have caused at least one death over the year. Every year around 98,000 people die in hospital due to preventable medical errors.

The authors said:

"Excessively increasing the workload may lead to suboptimal care and less direct patient care time, which may paradoxically increase, rather than decrease costs."

They added:

"Hospitalists frequently reported that excess workload prevented them from fully discussing treatment options, caused delay in patient admissions and/or discharges, and worsened patient satisfaction. Over 20 percent reported that their average workload likely contributed to patient transfers, morbidity, or even mortality."

Interestingly, according to the Journal of the American Medical Association, the number of hours that doctors are working has been declining over recent years, even though the demand has been higher than ever and there is a serious shortage of physicians in the country.

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Section Issues On Medicine: Medical practice