Shorter Shifts May Mean A Greater Likelihood Of Mistakes Made By Residents

Medical Malpractice Mistakes

Patients who go to the hospital have a lot on their mind, especially if they are suffering from a serious medical condition. Any frustration a patient may be feeling could be increased if they are seen by multiple doctors during a visit. A patient may be unnerved if they need to explain their condition to multiple doctors over the course of one visit.

In an effort to improve patient safety and enhance the well-being of medical residents, the number of hours a doctor in training can work has been reduced from 30 hours to 16 hours. The hope was that patients would be protected from errors made by overly tired doctors. Two studies researched the impact of the reduced length of time young doctors can work per shift on patient care and the well-being of residents.

Residency programs do not fall under the federal regulations that oversee most workplace hours. Rather these guidelines are set by the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education. Any changes made to the number of hours in a resident’s shift will have unintended consequences according to the lead author of one of the studies, Sanjay Desai.

Research has shown that the shorter shifts have not improved the rates of depression among young doctors nor has it increased the number of hours they sleep per week. Additionally, medical errors that have harmed patients have increased as much as 20 percent, compared to residents who continued to work longer shifts. One opinion as to the increase in the number of medical errors is that hospitals did not invest in giving the young doctors extra help to do the clinical work that is required. Therefore the interns would need to do the same amount of work during the shorter shifts. The amount of work that needs to be done in a shorter period of time circles back to the well-being of residents through increased stress levels and the resulting loss of sleep.

One of the studies also found that the shorter shifts increased the likelihood of “handoff risks” given the increased number of times a patient’s care changes hands with the shorter shifts. The number of training opportunities has also decreased.

When a person goes to the hospital they expect that they will get better. So if a patient suffers injury as a result of a medical error they can be become discouraged or frustrated. They can suffer serious complications that result in permanent damage or even death. If a mistake does occur the patient may be able to commence a civil lawsuit to hold the medical providers responsible.

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