A recent survey by Johns Hopkins University, published in the popular medical journal JAMA Internal Medicine, shocked the medical community by claiming to have found one of the underlying causes of medical malpractice—a heavy workload.
The survey, released last Monday (1/28/13), used a popular medical networking site to assess how a heavy workload affects the quality of care given to patients. A total of 506 hospital-based doctors were reviewed, and the researchers concluded that nearly half of doctors in the U.S. consider excessive workloads to be a significant factor in medical errors and decreased patient safety.
The results of the survey revealed that 40% of doctors admit that the number of patients they see over a period of one month frequently exceeds safe levels.
An even more frightening statistic was that 5% of physicians surveyed reported that the heavy workload may have caused at least one death during the year. An estimated 98,000 people die every year from preventable medical errors.
The researchers went on to say:
“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.”
Some of the blame is being directed at recent health care reforms, which have given another 30 million Americans medical insurance coverage and has increased the number of patients each doctor is seeing. This increase is putting stress on doctors to make sure everyone gets medical attention by performing procedures and operations faster, according to some doctors.
In contrast, the Associated Press recently reported on a study done in 2010 that seems to say the opposite—doctors are working fewer hours than they did a decade ago.
Although the number of patients has shot through the roof in the last few years, the study found that the average doctor works 51 hours instead of the 55 they worked in the 90s—the equivalent of losing 36,000 doctors in a decade.
But are longer work weeks the answer to medical malpractice cases?
Although there will never be a “cure” for medical malpractice since human error is inevitable, is it possible that a creating longer work weeks for doctors would give them enough time to properly assess and treat the growing number of patients?
Most doctors say no. Longer work weeks would just lead to more errors as doctors became exhausted and careless from prolonged shifts. And besides, even at 51 hours a week, doctors are working more than the average American.
Minimizing medical malpractice is a complicated issue. The hope is that this new survey by Johns Hopkins will shed more light on the problem, so that the medical community can come up with solutions to improve patient safety.
Medical malpractice will always be a danger, but the goal is to ultimately reduce the risks and provide proper legal defense for patients.
Contact a lawyer specializing in medical malpractice if you believe a doctor, hospital, or facility has made a negligent error in regard to your health.