New Doctors to Be Allowed to Work 24-Hour Shifts Starting July 2017

Posted By Regan Zambri Long, PLLC || 24-Mar-2017

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.

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