Healthcare providers face exceptional stresses while on the job. In fact, the level of stress and emotional trauma associated with being a physician can be so intense, there’s even a unique name for it: Compression fatigue.
Although compression fatigue should be given serious attention, there often isn’t enough time in the fast-paced medical environment for doctors to get the mental reprieve they need to overcome it. Unfortunately for patients, this can mean an increased risk of medical malpractice, as a fatigued physician may stop connecting with their patients or exploring all possible options for treatment.
WHAT IS COMPRESSION FATIGUE?
Compression fatigue can best be described as a sense of detachment and exhaustion during medical work. After watching patients deal with the worst kinds of suffering and sickness, some overworked physicians begin to just “go through the motions” while on the job, building emotional walls to prevent themselves from getting too invested in a particular patient.
Some of the most common symptoms of compression fatigue in doctors include:
- Brisk, irritated, or cold bedside manner
- Seeming tired or “burnt out”
- Failing to follow-up with patients
- Reluctance to share bad news or test results
- Avoiding a patient’s gaze or questions
THE RESULTS OF UNTREATED COMPRESSION FATIGUE
Like any mental health issue, compression fatigue can be treated with the right care. Studies have also found that doctors who feel supported by their hospitals and clinics are less likely to develop compression fatigue. However, if untreated, the results can be devastating for patients and doctors alike.
Ultimately, effective health care depends on the connection between a doctor and a patient. That human connection can often motivate physicians to find the best solution, or examine all avenues before giving a final diagnosis. Severe compression fatigue interferes with that bond and increases the risk of a mistake.
AVOID THE RISK OF MEDICAL ERROR
Although you may not be able to tell when your doctor has compression fatigue, it’s important to pay attention throughout your office visit. Look at your physician’s body language carefully, and notice whether they seem interested in what’s happening.
Here are some good questions to ask yourself during a consultation:
- Does this doctor consistently fail to answer my questions in a thorough way?
- Does this doctor seem anxious, stressed, or overworked?
- Does this doctor dismiss my experiences or interrupt me?
- Does this doctor seem like they don’t really care about my wellbeing?
If you’ve answered “yes” to any of the questions listed above, it may be time to consider getting a second opinion before you make any major healthcare decisions. By confirming your questions with another doctor, you may be able to avoid the pain of a serious medical error – and avoid the need for a medical malpractice lawsuit later on.
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