Rising patient volumes may increase medical mistakes

By Greg Kohn

All jobs and careers come with their stresses. Most of us at some point in our lives have experienced work-related stress resulting from an approaching deadline or excessive workload. As a result of this stress, some people may have neglected to address an important issue or forgot to do something during work. Mistakes happen, but what are the consequences of a doctor making a medical mistake due to a heavy workload and a high patient volume?

New York and New Jersey residents may find it interesting to learn that according to a recent research letter released by JAMA Internal Medicine, nearly 70 percent of over 500 hospital-based physicians surveyed reported that their excessive workloads likely resulted in a patient complication, and about five percent of respondents indicated that the mistake or mistakes they made likely caused a death.

Nearly 50 percent of the surveyed doctors reported seeing more patients than they can manage safely. Further noting that as a result, unnecessary tests were ordered, medication errors and even patient deaths occurred. The administrators of the survey noted that increasing workload at hospitals may lead to suboptimal care. The average workload for doctors is projected to increase as the 2010 health care law expands insurance coverage to 30 million more Americans.

The debate is ongoing, and lawmakers are moving to place restrictions on the number of hours doctors in training can work, and legislators are also evaluating nursing staffing levels.

In general, all healthcare providers have an ongoing duty to provide a reasonable standard of care. This includes ensuring that patients’ conditions are adequately addressed and that physicians prescribe appropriate medications and dosage amounts. Despite all the training that doctors receive and the steps that legislators are taking to address the issue of excessive workload, medical errors and mistakes still happen.

When these errors occur, patients and their families suffer. When harm results, the negligent doctor, nurse, hospital and other healthcare professionals may be held liable depending on the circumstances. The patient and his or her family may be able to recover damages, such as additional medical expense resulting from the errors, lost wages, loss of earning capacity, pain and suffering and more.

Source: VOXXI.com, “Excessive workloads raise risk of medical errors for hospital doctors,” Jan. 29, 2013

About the Author
Greg Kohn is a partner at Nagel Rice and specializes in complex civil litigation cases, including professional malpractice, personal injury, class actions, wrongful death, products liability, and commercial litigation.  He has extensive experience representing clients in both state and federal court. Greg has tried many jury trials to verdict and has recovered over $50 million in settlements and verdicts in all types of personal injury matters including automobile accidents, wrongful death cases, slip and falls, and other catastrophic injury cases. Greg also handles medical malpractice cases, involving misdiagnoses, wrongful birth, and delayed cancer diagnosis. If you have questions regarding this article, you can contact Greg here.