The emotional impact of medical errors on practicing physicians in the United States and Canada

Amy D. Waterman, Jane Garbutt, Erik Hazel, William Claiborne Dunagan, Wendy Levinson, Victoria J. Fraser, Thomas H. Gallagher

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

343 Scopus citations


Background: Being involved in medical errors can compound the job-related stress many physicians experience. The impact of errors on physicians was examined. Methods: A survey completed by 3,171 of the 4,990 eligible physicians in internal medicine, pediatrics, family medicine, and surgery (64% response rate) examined how errors affected five work and life domains. Results: Physicians reported increased anxiety about future errors (61%), loss of confidence (44%), sleeping difficulties (42%), reduced job satisfaction (42%), and harm to their reputation (13%) following errors. Physicians' job-related stress increased when they had been involved with a serious error. However, one third of physicians only involved with near misses also reported increased stress. Physicians were more likely to be distressed after serious errors when they were dissatisfied with error disclosure to patients (odds ratio [OR] = 3.86, confidence interval [CI] = 1.66, 9.00), perceived a greater risk of being sued (OR = .28, CI = 1.50, 3.48), spent greater than 75% time in clinical practice (OR = 2.20, CI = 1.60, 3.01), or were female (OR = 1.91, CI = 1.21, 3.02). Only 10% agreed that health care organizations adequately supported them in coping with error-related stress. Discussion: Many physicians experience significant emotional distress and job-related stress following serious errors and near misses. Organizational resources to support physicans after errors should be improved.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)467-476
Number of pages10
JournalJoint Commission Journal on Quality and Patient Safety
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 2007

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Leadership and Management


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