Starting July 1, a profession already plagued by fatigue may become less
safe for patients. As the
Washington Post reports, the Accreditation Counsel for Graduate Medical Education has approved
lifting the 16-hour shift cap on first-year doctors, enabling them to
pull 24-hour consecutive shifts in hospitals across the United States.
The counsel says the change should actually make healthcare safer for patients
on several fronts. For example, longer shifts mean fewer handoffs from
physician to physician, possibly reducing the chance of medical errors.
The counsel also suggested the longer shifts will help prepare these new
doctors for the ongoing demands of their profession, and that their supervisors
would be able to monitor the new doctors carefully for signs of fatigue.
However, critics of the decision contend that established research flies
in the face of this logic, stating physician fatigue increases the chance
for medical errors to occur. As we reported in this
recent post, the
Joint Commission Journal on Quality and Patient Safety cites numerous studies concluding that physicians working consecutive
24-hour shifts are 5 times as likely to make a serious medical error due
to fatigue, and three times as likely to make an error resulting in the
death of the patient.
What This Information Means for Patients
While the debate about doctor/nurse fatigue shows no signs of stopping,
patients continue to be the group most at risk. Until the medical community
finds ways to resolve its own issues, you should assume responsibility
for your own safe care if you seek medical treatment, particularly at
a hospital. If a healthcare professional demonstrates signs of fatigue,
respectfully request a replacement if one is available. You always have
the right to refuse treatment from a professional whose abilities you
have any reason to distrust.
If you or a loved one has been a victim of medical error due to fatigue
or other causes, we can help. Contact our
D.C. medical malpractice attorneys for more information.