Reduced residency shifts fail to increase hospital safety

Reduced residency shifts fail to increase hospital safety

A persisting belief that long hours are the cause of many medical errors in hospitals has been overturned by two recent studies. Medical malpractice claims involving doctor errors was addressed by the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education, which establishes guidelines for how long resident doctors can work before taking a mandatory break. Prior residency regulations allowed shifts as long as 30 hours, and this was reduced to 16 hours in 2011 in an attempt to "protect patients from errors made by sleepy doctors."

Two studies published by the Journal of the American Medical Association assessed the effects of reduced shifts. They discovered a 15- to 20-percent increase in doctor errors. They also found that residents did not use the downtime for more sleep.

Several reasons were posited for the increase in errors. The lead author for one of the studies pointed to the concept of handoffs, which refers to the number of different doctors a patient will see during a hospital stay. Shorter shifts inevitably mean a higher frequency of handoffs and less doctor-patient familiarity. The president of the American Medical Student Association voiced a concern that reduced shifts could mean the same amount of work is crammed into less time. One finding may be especially relevant for future efforts to increase patient safety. Of residents surveyed in one study, 20 percent tested positive for depression.

Medical professional negligence in the hospital setting presents a serious risk for patient safety. Surgical and anesthesia error, misdiagnosis, birth injuries and even seemingly small mistakes can result in a worsened medical condition or fatal outcome. With medical malpractice attorneys, patients in New Jersey may be able to seek compensation for personal injury.

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