If you had a choice as a patient as to whether you would want to be operated on by a resident who was well-rested or by one who was on hour 25 of their of a 28 hour shift, who would you choose? I bet all of us would choose the well-rested resident. It only makes sense that a well-rested person would be less likely to make a mistake and that would lead to less medical malpractice lawsuits brought against hospitals. The frightening part of this scenario is that it does happen in our hospitals across the country. Now a new study shows that surgeons in training are fatigued because of the long hours that they have to put in and this increases a hospital's negligence and could cause other serious errors to patients.
The study focused on orthopedic surgical residents. Researchers found that orthopedic surgical residents were averaging a little more than five hours of sleep a night and that they were so tired during the day, that a quarter of their time was impaired as if they were legally drunk.
Researchers feel that now that they have identified that this fatigue is present in orthopedic residents, there may be interventions that could be made to prevent medical mistakes. Also, researchers caution that their study only focused on predictions based on fatigue level. They did not assess how many medical errors were actually caused by tired surgical residents in the study. In addition, it appears that residents working the night shift had more fatigue than the day shift workers.
Prior to this study, the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education, a board that oversees resident training, enacted new rules stating that first-year residents could not work more than 16 hours in a row. However, the new rules did not include more experienced residents, which are allowed to work 28-hour shifts. As a patient, this is alarming to think that you could be being treated by someone so fatigued.
While these rules have been enacted, many hospitals have not implemented them because of cost. Instead, hospitals are trying to target tired residents and implement preventative interventions, which they feel may be more cost effective.
Source: Foxnews.com, "Tired surgical residents may up error risk, study suggests," May 22, 2012