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

Jt Comm J Qual Patient Saf. 2007 Aug;33(8):467-76. doi: 10.1016/s1553-7250(07)33050-x.


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 physicians after errors should be improved.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Age Factors
  • Canada
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Job Satisfaction
  • Male
  • Medical Errors / psychology*
  • Mental Health Services / statistics & numerical data
  • Middle Aged
  • Physicians / psychology*
  • Quality of Health Care
  • Sex Factors
  • Stress, Psychological / etiology*
  • United States