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Could alcohol problems increase the likelihood of surgical errors?

Feb 27, 2012 | Surgical Errors

When people in New York and elsewhere go to the hospital for surgery, they often worry about a number of things. Will the surgery go well? Will my doctor find additional problems? People usually don’t worry about whether or not their physician has an alcohol problem, but that may a concern that patients should add to the list.

According to one study, one in six surgeons has a problem with alcohol. Even more shocking, more than 75 percent of the physicians that admitted to making a serious surgical error in the last three months appear to have problems with alcohol.

The study was completed by researchers at the University of Washington. They sent surveys to 25,000 surgeons, but only received responses from slightly more than 7,000. Because the response rate was relatively low, it could mean that many more surgeons have an alcohol problem but are too ashamed to admit it.

The study asked surgeons about their work, lifestyle and mood. Researchers are not sure why so many surgeons have problems with alcohol, but it could have something to do with the fact that the job is so demanding. Most of the people that showed signs of alcohol abuse were experiencing depression and burnout.

In total, 15 percent of surgeons appear to have problems with alcohol. In the general public, about nine percent of people have issues with alcohol.

Of the surgeons surveyed, about 14 percent of men and about 25 percent of women appear to show signs of alcohol abuse.

This kind of news is startling. When people go in for surgery, they put their lives in the hands of a surgeon. People expect that their surgeon will give them the best care possible, but this study proves that may not always be the case.

Source: Reuters, "Alcohol problems not uncommon among surgeons: study," Kerry Grens, Feb. 22, 2012