How Fatigue Can Affect Your Doctor’s Judgment—And What You Can Do to Protect Yourself

The medical profession has some glaring gaps when it comes to patient safety—and one of the biggest is the lack of protections against doctor fatigue. Hospital physicians and nurses are among the most overworked and under-rested people in our work force today. Studies repeatedly show that adults require 7-9 hours of sleep per night for optimum health. When you consider that resident doctors typically work 80-100 hours a week and frequently work for up to 28 hours at a time, you realize that they aren’t getting anywhere near these amounts of sleep.

Under these conditions, even the most competent doctors are likely to have a lapse in judgment, forget something important or make a medical mistake—which underscores the importance of always being our own best advocate when we’re under doctor’s care. Here’s what you need to know to guard against the pitfalls of doctor fatigue.

How Lack of Rest Affect Your Doctor’s Performance

Fatigue has a profound effect on the brain, which means it can have a negative impact on almost any function the brain controls. In the case of a fatigued physician, insufficient sleep can cause any of the following:

  • Impaired judgment, which may lead to making poor decisions based on improper logic regarding the patient’s situation
  • Lapses in attention, inability to concentrate or absentmindedness, which can lead to mistakes like forgetting a certain procedure in the patient’s routine or writing down the wrong dose of a prescription
  • Slowed mental responses or indecisivenessthis can obviously cause serious problems for a patient when time is of the essence
  • Impaired hand-eye coordination, which could have serious repercussions, for example, during surgery

 

Protecting Yourself

Remember, despite everyone’s best intentions, no one will do a better job looking out for your interests than you. The biggest takeaway from this discussion is that you always have the right to refuse treatment from a physician or nurse if you don’t feel safe under their care. If you see signs that your attending physician may be suffering from fatigue, consider any/all of the following steps:

  • Ask another doctor to double check your charts for mistakes
  • If you’re scheduled for surgery and there is room for flexibility, ask to be the first surgery of the day for that doctor.
  • When in doubt, politely ask for a second opinion and/or a different attending physician.

 

If you believe you have suffered damage due to a physician operating under fatigue, we can help. For an appointment, call our Washington D.C. medical malpractice attorneys today.