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Solving the problem of fatigue-related medical mistakes

Today’s society has benefited greatly from medical science and the hard work of doctors and other medical professionals. Unfortunately, many medical professionals are regularly required to work extremely long hours. While most people would consider a 12-hour shift a long day, doctors are often asked to work for 24-36 hours.

Essentially, they work to the point of exhaustion.

Being asked to work while deeply fatigued takes its toll – not only on the doctors themselves, but also on the patients they serve. Too many medical mistakes happen because of fatigue.

Would Setting Limits Help Or Not?

According to STAT News, some efforts have been made to reduce long hours, partly due to safety concerns. In 2011, the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME) published new guidelines that limited residents (i.e., doctors in training) to no more than 80 hours in a week. Residents in their first year couldn’t be asked to work more than 16 hours in a row, and residents in their second year and beyond were generally limited to a 24-hour shift, with occasional exceptions.

Because these shifts are still extremely long, there’s some question as to whether imposing such “limits” is truly effective. In fact, some evidence suggests that shorter shifts might actually be detrimental to patient care.

When attending physicians and residents work shorter shifts, one of the effects is more hand-offs, where one attending physician transfers information about a patient’s care to whomever is coming onto the next shift. While exhaustion can lead to mistakes, so can miscommunication. More hand-offs increases the potential of such miscommunication.

Of course, a doctor coming off a 36-hour shift can still fail to give the right information to the next physician, due to extreme fatigue. According the ACGME evaluations, patient outcomes for residents who worked under the limits were about the same as those who has not worked under the restrictions.

Medical Mistakes Are Killing Hundreds Of Thousands Of People

No matter where you work, mistakes can happen. Most are easily corrected, but others result in irreparable harm. In the U.S., the problem has become serious enough to bring hospital errors into third place for the cause of death. Such medical malpractice kills over 400,000 patients each year, according to the nonprofit organization called Hospital Safety Score.

Both the physicians and the hospitals they work for may share responsibility for these errors – especially when the doctors are consistently overworked. If you’ve suffered injuries, you’ve experienced unnecessary complications in your care or you have lost a loved one, a lawyer experienced in medical negligence may be able to help you get your recovery back on track.