Physicians who believe they have committed a major medical error in the previous three months are more likely to report symptoms of burnout and depression, which may also increase the risk of a future error, according to findings of a Mayo Clinic study published in the current issue of Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).

Previous studies asking residents about errors either had taken a single snapshot in time or asked residents to look back on their entire residency and recollect whether they had made a serious error. The Mayo study is the first to follow a group of residents prospectively, enabling researchers to examine the relationship between physician distress and the future likelihood of an error.

The connection between errors and various measures of distress also operated in reverse; those who scored high on burnout measures were twice as likely to report an error in the next three months as those with low burnout. The study also found a trend toward increased future errors for physicians with symptoms of depression.