Reducing Physician Mistakes by Reducing Stress

Distressed woman practitioner standing in a glass hall office of the clinic and examining documents

Stress impacts everything–from our bodies to our minds–and it can even cause changes in behavior.

Physically, it can cause headaches, stomach problems, and difficulty sleeping. Mentally, it can affect our mood, making us feel anxious, restless, and overwhelmed. It can even play a role in our behavior, causing emotional outbursts, withdrawal, and changes in eating habits.

What else can stress do? It can cause us to make mistakes, like venting to the stranger at the deli, over-analyzing minor details, procrastinating important responsibilities, and making hasty decisions.

In healthcare, the effects of stress can be especially dangerous. According to a study performed by BMJ Open, it can lead to an increased risk of patient care mistakes, as well as an increased risk of cardiovascular problems for physicians.

Here are a few factors that could lead to an increase in physician stress:

Fatigue is a major part of the problem.

Are your physicians worn out at the end of the workday? Do they find their shifts to be not only physically draining but emotionally draining as well? Are they exhausted by the thought alone of their next shift?

These were the types of questions emergency medicine residents were asked in the BMJ Open study. While a certain level of exhaustion might be expected after a shift, the degree of physician fatigue might be playing a role in their overall stress levels.

Activity level outside of work could be playing a role.

Individuals who work in healthcare tend to be fairly active throughout the day, moving quickly through rounds, climbing stairs from floor to floor, and standing on their feet for hours at a time. But the BMJ Open study asked candidates about their exercise and activity levels outside of work, confirming something that we have all heard before: A lack of physical activity can lead to an increase in stress.

Biology might be to blame (at least partially).

For the BMJ Open study, blood and saliva samples were taken before and after shifts to measure changes or indications of bio-markers for stress. Although there is much research to be done on the topic, some studies are revealing that there might just be a link between anxiety and geneticsThis means, if you’re feeling stressed at work, biology might just be part of the problem.

 

How Stress Leads to Patient Mistakes

The idea that stress can cause physicians to make more mistake isn’t a new one. In fact, in 2016, the American Journal of Emergency Medicine published this study on that very topic. 

From losing your keys to mixing up meeting times, stress can lead to all types of confusion and cause us to be more forgetful and make more mistakes. Unfortunately, the mistakes made in an emergency room have far more serious consequences than simply misplacing your car keys.

Stress-induced mistakes, ranging from serious to near misses, can be incredibly dangerous for patients.

 

Hospitals Can Help Ease Physician Stress & Burnout

While the responsibility of stress management might seem to rest solely on the shoulders of the physicians themselves, hospitals can play a vital role in easing physician stress and preventing burnout.

Here are a few ways hospitals can help:

Identify and develop physician leaders.

Leadership development enhances the quality of worklife for both individuals and teams. By identifying emerging leaders–and offering opportunities for development, monitoring, mentoring, and coaching–physicians will have an environment in which they feel more engaged. Physician engagement is one way to show physicians that they are heard and can help ease the effects of stress and burnout.

Offer opportunities for physician engagement.

Physician engagement has evolved from a nice to do to a need to do. There are several ways that hospitals and organizations can keep their physicians engaged, including:

  • Keep physicians involved in the business structure.
  • Find physicians who align with your organization’s vision.
  • Be open about the existing challenges.
  • Simplify the teambuilding process.
  • Improve physician satisfaction.

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Another way to improve physician engagement is to create a physician engagement program

Provide physicians with stress management resources.

Hospitals can help ease physician stress by supporting work-life balance and providing the necessary resources for self-care. This might mean offering flexible work hours, as well as offering resources that support physician health, sleep, and hobbies, as well as their personal life.

To learn more about how Coors Healthcare Solutions can help your organization improve physician satisfaction and leadership, contact us now!