Medical residents who are depressed are about six times more likely to make medication errors than those who aren't depressed, says a study that looked a 123 pediatric residents at three children's hospitals in the United States.
Researchers found that 20 percent of the residents were depressed, and 74 percent were burned out. During the study period, the residents made a total of 45 medications errors, and those who were depressed made 6.2 times more medication errors than those who weren't depressed.
There didn't appear to be any link between higher medication error rates and burnout. The study was published online Feb. 7 in the British Medical Journal.
These findings suggest that doctors' mental health may play a more significant role in patient safety than previously suspected, the study authors said. In addition, the high burnout rate among residents in this study -- consistent with other studies -- indicates that methods of training doctors may cause stress that harms residents' health.
The researchers did note that their data was collected before work hour limits were implemented for medical residents in the United States.
More needs to be done to study and improve the mental health and working conditions of doctors, the study authors concluded.
Each year in the United States, as many as 98,000 patients die due to medication errors, and the stress of resident training, including lack of sleep and leisure time, are among the most commonly cited reasons for such errors, according to background information in the study.
While it may seem logical to link medication errors to depression and burnout among doctors, these study findings are not conclusive, researchers from Scotland's University of Aberdeen noted in an accompanying editorial.
Large, prospective trials need to be conducted to pinpoint the factors that cause medication errors, they wrote.