As a result, the physician may become so upset by the blunder that his chances of committing another mistake increase dramatically.
In all, 34 per cent of doctors admitted that they had made at least one 'major' medical error in a year while working at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota.
Disturbing though the findings are, the situation could be even worse. Not all doctors at the clinic were prepared to participate in the study, and there is also the likelihood that not every blunder was admitted.
It's been reckoned by the Institute of Medicine that 100,000 Americans die each year as a direct result of a medical mistake, while other studies have estimated that anything from 10 per cent to 50 per cent of patients may be a victim of a medical error while in hospital.
The new study for the first time tells us just how many doctors are committing the errors - while another study published in the same week suggests the reason could be down to sleep loss.
Researchers tracked the heart and artery health of 22 doctors working in an intensive care unit, and found that their functions deteriorated dramatically while on a long shift. The rest of the unit refused to participate because it meant they would have to go without coffee for the entire shift.
(Source: Journal of the American Medical Association, 2006; 296:1071-8; and 1049-50).
E-news broadcast 14 September 2006 No.292 [Subscribe]