It's a failing of the entire medical system that is putting the lives of patients at risk, say researchers from the Stanford School of Medicine.
Doctors who are exhausted or suffering from burnout are twice as likely to make a mistake that could endanger the life of the patient. In a survey of 6,695 doctors, 55 per cent said they had recently suffered symptoms of exhaustion and burnout, and 10 per cent admitted they had made at least one major medical error in the previous three months.
A serious error was also four times more likely in clinics and medical units that had low safety grades, as ranked by the doctors. But other studies have found that the rate of errors triple in well-run and safe units if the doctor is exhausted, the researchers say, which suggests that burnout is the single biggest factor in patient safety.
Physician burnout has become a "national epidemic", the researchers say, that affects half of all doctors. It's characterised by symptoms of exhaustion and feelings of reduced effectiveness.
Doctors who experience burnout are also twice as likely to think about committing suicide.