Results of a recent survey indicate that catastrophic medical errors can haunt practitioners for years, and in some cases, forever. The study, published in Anesthesia & Analgesia, looked at the results of surveys sent to 1,200 randomly selected members of the American Society of Anesthesiologists to determine how physicians handle the emotional impact of surgical catastrophes.

A total of 659 physicians (56%) completed the survey. Results indicated that most respondents (84%) had been involved in at least one unanticipated death or serious injury of a patient during surgery. When asked about the emotional impact of the most memorable surgical catastrophe, more than 70% of physicians reported feeling guilt, anxiety, and reliving the event. Eighty-eight percent of physicians required time to recover from the incident and 19% reported never fully recovering from the event.

Alarmingly, although 67% of physicians responding reported believing that their ability to provide patient care was impaired in the first four hours following the event, only 7% were given time off. Results also showed that 12% of respondents considered a career change after a surgical catastrophe. The authors concluded that surgical catastrophes can have a profound and lasting emotional impact on anesthesiologists and may affect a physician’s ability to provide patient care following such an incident.

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