After-Hours Charting Linked to Medical Mistakes
June 11, 2021
Medical mistakes are the third-leading cause of death in the United States. Researchers estimate that avoidable diagnostic and treatment errors cause as many as 251,000 deaths every year. While there are numerous factors that contribute to preventable medical mistakes, burnout is near the top of the list. According to the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP), burnout in medical professionals is marked by three cardinal symptoms: exhaustion, depersonalization (otherwise known as “compassion fatigue” or an increased level of cynicism, sarcasm, and venting towards patients), and lack of efficacy. Burnout is not just unpleasant for healthcare workers who experience it; it is also extremely dangerous, and far too often deadly, for their patients.
A recent study published by the Journal of American Medical Informatics Association (JAMIA) found when physicians conduct less after-hours charting, they report significantly lower rates of burnout. And what is medical charting, exactly? It entails documenting integral aspects of a patient’s information, such as their care, services provided, medications and dosages administered, and procedures that have been performed. Physicians are not the only ones who compose patient charts. So do lab technicians, nurses, and all other healthcare personnel who are members of a patient’s medical team.
The JAMIA study found that physicians who reported five or fewer hours of after-hour charting were two times as likely to report decreased burnout scores as compared to those who conducted after-hours charting for six or more hours. Additionally, researchers also determined that physicians who worked at facilities where EHR, or electronic health record, systems had been successfully implemented were likely to report lower burnout levels as well. Before we examine how EHR systems aid in decreasing physician burnout and in turn how they can reduce preventable and deadly medical errors, let’s take a closer look at why burnout itself is so dangerous.
The Consequences of Burnout
The World Health Organization (WHO) recently redefined health workforce burnout as a syndrome and not merely a “state of vital exhaustion”, which the agency previously defined it as. The updated designation will go into effect January of next year. The new definition also highlights how burnout often results from a lack of proper management, which calls into question the way that the medical system at large has – or has not – taken proper steps to address the dangerous phenomenon.
Not only is burnout linked to the three cardinal symptoms (exhaustion, depersonalization, and reduced efficacy) but also to a diminished quality of patient care and safety, a higher turnover rate of medical staff, and lower patient satisfaction. All of these factors act together to endanger vulnerable patients who trust that they will receive safe and effective care from their healthcare providers when they receive treatment for various medical complaints. This is where EHR systems come into play. The Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology, or ONC, says that electronic health records have the ability to reduce – or even to entirely prevent – medical errors.
Here are a few reasons from the ONC on how EHRs aid in limiting preventable medical mistakes:
- Qualified EHRs not only keep up-to-date records of a patient’s medications and/or allergies, but they also check for problems (like drug interactions) whenever a clinician prescribes a new medication. If there is an issue, the system alerts the prescriber
- They can providers to potential safety problems, which leads to better patient outcomes
- EHRs improve communication of a patient’s medical information between staff members
- EHRs allow providers to access information on an entire population of patients, like those who suffer from a certain disease or condition. This allows physicians to identify problem-specific risk factors and also to identify effective treatments for conditions more easily and reliably
Preventing Health Workforce Burnout
Fewer hours of after-hours charting through the implementation of useful EHR systems or by way of reduced work hours are just some of the ways the medical field should be striving to rectify the unacceptable rate of preventable healthcare tragedies that burnout causes. Other useful tools that providers can use to reduce burnout rates include:
- Engaging in regular exercise, eating healthy, and participating in restorative activities, like yoga, acupuncture, or other stress management activities
- Looking for warning signs of burnout and not being afraid to ask for professional help
- Taking a day or two off to restore or relax when you are running low on energy
- Taking time to connect with people outside of work, like friends and loved ones
Why Should I Contact a Lawyer After a Medical Mistake?
There is no question that working in the healthcare industry is a high-stakes and high-stress job. Even though the stakes may be high for providers, they are higher for patients. Although some medical mistakes are unavoidable, far too many others are the result of a provider practicing in a negligent manner. Medical malpractice occurs when a doctor, hospital, or other healthcare provider fails to follow industry-wide standards and causes injury or death to the patient.
When a person is a victim of medical malpractice, it is advisable to speak with a lawyer who can examine the injury from every angle. The attorneys at Galfand Berger are committed to helping innocent individuals who sustain injuries as a result of a preventable medical mistake. Our attorneys have seen a wide range of medical mistakes, including:
- Failure to diagnose a paralyzing infection. A physician treated our client for bone fractures they sustained after a fall. The physician sent our client home without diagnosing or treating the client’s signs and symptoms of a severe infection. Due to the treating physician’s negligence, our client was the victim of major complications, which included long-term paralysis. Galfand Berger, LLP filed suit against the attending provider and recovered $1.3 million for our client (https://www.galfandberger.com/verdicts/Medical-Malpractice/20-2/)
- Perforation of intestines. Our client sustained debilitating injuries when a doctor poked a hole in the wall of her large intestines during an examination. Not only did our client develop a serious infection after the procedure, but she also needed hospitalization and major surgery because of the perforation. Our attorneys successfully recovered $800,000 for the client. To read more about this recovery, please visit: https://www.galfandberger.com/verdicts/Medical-Malpractice/18-2
If you have questions about filing a medical malpractice case, someone at our firm can help. Contact a representative online now.
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