Study: Medical errors affect surgeons personally, professionally

Many surgeons feel emotionally affected by surgical complications and want more support, a new study published in the British Journal of Surgery said.

Researchers from Imperial College London in the United Kingdom found that surgeons who experienced a surgical error in the operating room within the past three months were more likely to suffer from symptoms of fatigue and depression, and have a lower quality of life.

After interviewing 27 general and vascular surgeons with at least three years' experience, researchers found surgeons were affected not only professionally, but personally by complications, with 15 of them revealing feelings of guilt, eight surgeons expressing a crisis of confidence and worry about their reputation, and six surgeons expressing worry for their patients.

Twenty-one of the interviewees said the complications made an impact on their behavior and 18 said they noticed an impact on their surgical practice. 

Factors leading to their reactions included:

  • the preventability of the complications;
  • the surgeons' personality and experiences;
  • the outcomes and reactions of the patients;
  • the reactions of colleagues; and
  • the culture of the institution where they work.

To cope, surgeons want more training on how to deal with the aftermath of complications. Researchers suggested additional surgical training, mentoring, mortality and morbidity meetings, as well as psychological interventions while focusing on teamwork to further assist surgeons after complications.  

"Surgeons are typically regarded as more tough-minded than other healthcare professionals and there is indeed some evidence that this is the case. The present study found, however, that there is a considerable variation in both the nature and the severity of reactions to complications, with some surgeons being much more affected than others," researchers wrote in the study.

Meanwhile, a study published in the Archives of Surgery showed that sleep-deprived surgeons are a threat to patient safety, FierceHealthcare previously reported. A surgical resident gets only 5.3 hours of sleep a day, the study showed, and that can lead to fatigue akin to being legally drunk, functioning at 70 percent mental effectiveness.

To learn more:
- read the abstract and study