Results of a recent survey indicate that catastrophic medical errors can haunt practitioners for years, and in some cases, forever.

The study, published in the journal Anesthesia & Analgesia, looked at the results of surveys sent to 1,200 randomly selected members of the American Society of Anesthesiologists in order to determine how physicians handle the emotional impact of surgical catastrophes. A total of 659 physicians (56%) completed the survey. Most respondents (84%) had been involved in at least one unanticipated death or serious injury of a patient during surgery.

When asked about the emotional impact of their most memorable surgical catastrophe, over 70% of physicians reported feeling guilt, anxiety and reliving the event. Eighty-eight percent of clinicians required time to recover from the incident and 19% reported never fully recovering from the event.

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Alarmingly, although 67% of responding clinicians reported that their ability to provide patient care was impaired in the first four hours following the event, and only 7% were given time off. Results also showed that 12% of respondents considered a career change after a surgical catastrophe.

The authors concluded that surgical catastrophes can have a profound and lasting emotional impact on clinicians and may affect their ability to provide patient care following such an incident.