Posted On: February 23, 2012 by Montross Miller Muller Mendelson & Kennedy

Alcohol Use Increases Risk of Surgical Errors

drink.jpgAlcohol abuse and addiction issues are much more prevalent among American surgeons than believed. According to a new survey, approximately 15% of surgeons struggle with alcohol abuse or alcohol dependency issues, a rate that is much higher than the average alcohol dependency rate among the general population.

The survey was conducted in 2010, and included doctors who were members of the American College of Surgeons. According to the survey which has been published in the Archives of Surgery February issue, approximately 14 % of male surgeons in the US report alcohol dependence, compared to 26% of female surgeons. Taken together, these rates of alcohol dependence and alcohol addiction among surgeons is much higher than the 8% to 12% rate that is believed to exist in the general population.

The researchers, however, mention that it's highly unlikely that a surgeon would be so impaired by the use of alcohol that he would make serious medical errors. According to the researchers, the risk of a patient being harmed by a surgeon operating under the influence of alcohol is something like 1 in 10,000.

The survey was processed anonymously. However, a large majority of the surgeons who were surveyed did not respond. The number of surgeons that did respond to the survey on alcohol abuse and addiction was less than one-third of the 25,000 surgeons who were emailed. Therefore, Indiana medical malpractice attorneys would reserve judgment about the actual incidence of alcohol abuse in the surgeon population operation, considering that the representative sample is so small.

Even with the small representative sample, it is important to investigate this problem. Out of the 7,200 doctors who responded to the survey, researchers focused on just over 1000 surgeons, or 15% of them who reported alcohol-related behaviors that met the criteria for alcohol abuse and alcohol dependence.

Some of the results of the survey are not so surprising to Indiana medical malpractice attorneys. According to the survey, surgeons who reported committing a major medical error over the past 3 months were also more likely to report alcohol abuse. Additionally, doctors who reported depression, or were suffering from emotional exhaustion or had suicidal tendencies were much more likely to suffer from alcohol dependency. Burnout seems to be a major factor in alcohol dependency among surgeons.

Surprisingly, alcohol-related issues were much less prevalent among male surgeons than females. That seems to be in contrast to the general population, which sees more males exhibiting destructive alcohol-related behaviors. Additionally, older surgeons, those who had children, and those who worked longer hours were less likely to suffer from alcohol dependency. Surgeons employed by the Department Of Veterans’ Affairs are also less likely to suffer alcohol dependence.

What the surveyors hope to accomplish by publishing the results of the research, is to encourage more surgeons with alcohol addiction problems to come forward to undergo treatment.