When clinical workload and patient numbers increase, does patient safety suffer?  According to a recent article published by JAMA Internal Medicine, the answer is a clear and resounding YES!  The article[1], based upon a survey of 506 responding hospital physicians, found that 40% of those surveyed felt their clinical workload exceeded safe levels.  Moreover, the surveyed physicians also reported the following concerning numbers:

Over the past year, how often has the number of patients you see or are expected to see caused you to …

-Be unable to fully discuss treatment options or answer questions of a patient or family member:  25%

-Delay admitting or discharging patients until the next shift or hospital day:  22%

-Cross-cover “too many patients” than appropriate for  patient safety reasons:  20%

-Adversely affect the quality of your hand-offs:  18%

-Fail to promptly make note of, follow up, or act on a critical   action laboratory value or radiology reading:  10%

-Make a treatment or medication error that was not due to the lack of experience or knowledge:  7%

During the last year, how likely is it that any or your patients suffered from the following adverse events because of your workload?

-Transfers to higher levels of care (ie. ICU or step-down ICU:  10

-Morbidity or complications:  7

-Incident reports filed by you or anyone else:  6

-Mortality:  5

See Id.

In light of these astounding findings, it is no wonder that JAMA Internal Medicine also reports that as many as 98,000 patients die each year from preventable medical errors in hospitals alone.  I for one wonder if any of these victims, or their families, are receiving adequate and just compensation?  I highly doubt it.

[1] Impact of Attending Physician Workload on Patient Care:  A Survey of Hospitalists; Henry J. ichtalik, MD, MPH, MHS; Hsin-Chieh, PhD; Peter J. Pronovost, MD, PhD; Daniel J. Brotman, MD; JAMA Intern Med. 2013;():1-2.doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2013.1864.

Cameron Stephenson is a lawyer with the Levin, Papantonio law firm in Pensacola, Florida, and handles medical malpractice and other wrongful death cases.  He has devoted his legal practice to fighting for the rights of Florida’s injured patients.