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Studies reveal shorter hours for residents lead to more medical errors

If you should have the misfortune of being involved in a serious motor vehicle accident or other incident resulting in personal injuries, chances are very good that you will be taken to the nearest emergency room and possibly be admitted to the hospital.

Here, the chances are also very good that your care will be managed by a medical resident, a young physician who works under the supervision of an older, more experienced, and fully licensed physician.

Interestingly, the number of hours that these medical residents are allowed to work each shift without taking a break were shortened from 30 hours to 16 hours as recently as 2011 by the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education, the organization that oversees these matters. One of the primary reasons for the shorter shifts was that it would lead to fewer medical mistakes attributable to fatigue and/or stress.

Twin studies published in the Journal of the American Medical Association this week, however, indicate that this is not what has happened and even go so far as to call on ACGME to revaluate this move to shorter shifts.

Researchers at the University of Michigan Medical School, authors of one of the studies, distributed surveys to medical students entering residency programs from 2009-2011, asking about everything from their work habits to self-reported medical errors. Based on the 2,323 responses they received, the researchers determined that the number of medical errors resulting in patient harm were 15-20 percent higher among medical residents who worked the shorter shifts versus those who worked the longer shifts.

Some of the ideas advanced by the authors of the twin studies for this discrepancy include the fact that medical residents are required to do the same amount of work in a shorter amount of time, shorter shifts lead to more frequent changes in patient handoffs, and the stress caused by shorter shifts is causing medical residents to sleep even less. Still another theory is that the residents are spending less time in the hospital and therefore missing out on valuable training time.

Always remember that if you or a family member has been injured by any type of medical malpractice, you can seek the justice you need and deserve.

Source: USA Today, “Studies: Residents make more errors on shorter shifts,” Janice Lloyd, March 25, 2013