For many healthcare professionals, the battle to get enough sleep is a
constant challenge. Many resident physicians are on call for 24 hours
at a time, often in recurring shifts. Nurses commonly work 13-14 hours
at a time—sometimes longer—and are often asked to come back
for coinciding night and/or day shifts.
Does sleep deprivation affect patient safety? Many studies say it does.
By the numbers, here are a few highlights from a report from the
Joint Commission Journal on Quality and Patient Safety:
- Physicians-in-training who work consecutive 24-hour shifts are five times
more likely to make serious diagnostic errors, and three times more likely
to make medical errors leading to patient death.
- The same physicians-in-training are twice as likely to make a mistake during
the nighttime portion of their 24-hour shift.
- Nurses who work shifts exceeding 12.5 hours make up to 3.3 times more errors
in patient care.
Patients aren’t the only ones at risk; sleep-deprived healthcare
workers may endanger themselves, as well. According to the same report,
physicians who drive home after a 24-hour shift are twice as likely to
have an automobile accident, and both doctors and nurses who are sleep-deprived
are far more likely to experience needlestick injuries from contaminated
needles, making them more susceptible to contract deadly diseases.
The BC Medical Journal
compiled a report of numerous similar studies. These studies conclude that among other things,
sleep deprivation in physicians may cause:
- Greater impairment in math and communication skills (leading to medical error)
- Reduced empathy for patients
- Reduced quality when performing intubations
- Increased number of errors in ICU
While the medical community attempts to reduce the incidents of sleep deprivation,
many healthcare workers still work too many hours, too closely together.
To reduce your own risk of experiencing medical errors in these situations,
try seeking medical attention during the day, if possible, since more
medical errors occur at night. If you go to the ER or an urgent care center,
ask to be treated by someone who has just begun his/her shift. If you
suspect someone who is treating you is suffering from fatigue, speak up
and ask for a replacement.
For more information on protecting yourself or a loved one from medical
errors in an emergency room setting,
see this recent article.
If you’ve been a victim of medical error, our
D.C. medical malpractice attorneys can help. Call us for a free consultation.