When Your Doctor’s Mental Health Causes Medical Errors

There is no getting around the fact that doctors are human beings susceptible to the same medical conditions as anyone else they may treat. Even with the assistance of technology in the medical field helping to eliminate (some) medical errors, patients can come to harm due to mistakes. We still expect, and deserve, competent medical care regardless.

There are numerous issues that can affect a doctor’s ability to provide medical care. Negligence resulting in patients experiencing harm include mental health issues, age, and physical inability. Becoming a victim of medical malpractice due to a preventable condition is inexcusable, but will doctors ever admit to having a problem that diminishes their ability to provide proper care?

Those who suffer from any mental health issue become cemented to a stigma in the United States of being “crazy” and unstable. That makes it all the more difficult to admit when you have a problem requiring treatment. Doctors face even bigger hurdles in admitting to a need for help with seeking psychological care.

There is a mental health crisis in the medical field

In the minds of most people, doctors are the people who fix us; they’re not supposed to need fixing. It makes them appear vulnerable and patients would lose confidence in the care they receive upon learning their doctor’s brain might be injured. Most people see a substantial difference between a broken arm and a broken psyche. It’s unfair and it’s dangerous.

Doctors lead stressful lives between the hours they keep, the life-altering decisions and procedures they have to guide patients through, the knowledge that some patients just can’t be helped. Trying to balance all of that with a personal life with its own demands can eventually cause psychological turmoil.

Hundreds of doctors per year reach such a mental breaking point with depression that they commit suicide. The severe psychological strain places patients in serious jeopardy when a doctor’s focus has waned, and medical errors are made. In fact, 71% of doctors report experiencing depression, and that factor alone doubles their chances of making a medical error.

Just a few of the symptoms associated with depression include:

  • Trouble with concentration
  • Difficulty making decisions
  • Lack of energy and tiredness

Couple these symptoms with the fact that there is a substantial link between depression and drinking alcohol, and you’ve just added another layer of careless danger to patient care.

Being tired, indecisive, unable to concentrate, and possibly intoxicated can result in medication dosage mistakes, misdiagnosing symptoms, and making grave errors in surgery such as leaving tools inside a body. There is no limit to what can go wrong and the irreversible damage that can be needlessly inflicted on a patient.

One stressor found to be a significant contributory factor to stress doctors encounter is the bureaucracy that hospital systems bog physicians down with. Rather than being able to focus on patient care, they are forced to deal with red tape.

Doctors aren’t on the hook alone for medical malpractice

Hospitals and medical practices are aware that most doctors go through depression – some worse than others – and have essentially ignored the need for intervention and treatment programs. Implementing these tools would help remove the fear and stigma doctors face when disclosing that they are struggling with mental health. Enabling doctors to safely seek help will also save patients from negligent mistakes that may injure or cause their wrongful death.

When hospitals willingly neglect known risks to patient care, and the patient suffers harm as a result, the hospital holds liability for that wrongdoing. It’s the equivalent to a train conductor seeing a car sitting on the tracks and choosing not to hit the brakes to avoid a crash.

The medical community recognizes the importance of viewing mental health as any other condition that can be fixed with proper treatment, or patients will continue to be placed in danger. Until then, doctors will continue to make the choice of risking our health and safety over potentially losing their livelihood and reputation.

Please contact Paulson & Nace, PLLC through this contact form or by calling 202.463.1999.