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Are overworked doctors contributing to medical errors?

Time is precious for all health-care employees, but especially for physicians who evaluate and treat many patients every day. Although Pennsylvanians might think there are enough doctors in the state's hospitals to attend to their medical needs, they might be wrong. In fact, one national study earlier this year discovered that too few doctors means overworking the ones in practice - and adding to the numbers of medical errors.

According to the journal JAMA Internal Medicine, a survey of 500 physicians practicing in hospitals found that they routinely care for too many patients. About 48 percent of respondents said they took more patients than they could safely handle at least once a month. Researchers believe this is common. Doctors said their workloads kept them from properly discussing all treatment options with their patients. Twenty-two percent reported that they ordered unnecessary tests for patients because they did not have enough time to examine their cases and conditions. Unfortunately, some 5 to 10 percent of doctors said that some of their patients had suffered because of the physicians' lack of time. Some of those patients required treatment in intensive care because of their conditions, and others died.

One possible takeaway from this study is that a doctor's workload may compromise patient safety. This means that even though doctors have the knowledge to treat a certain condition or properly diagnose a patient, the demands of their work may contribute to fatal medical errors, including failure to diagnose, delayed diagnosis and surgical error.

Hospitals and health-care professionals should address this issue because of their responsibility for patient safety in any given circumstance. Any incidents related to medical errors caused by a physician's workload could be his or her legal responsibility. That liability could be greater if a patient suffers a worsened condition or dies.

Source: Live Science, "Overworked Doctors May Jeopardize Patient Safety," Accessed Oct. 23, 2014

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