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Extended shifts may cause increased number of medical errors

When a patient goes in for treatment, they put their lives in the hands of trained medical professionals. Patients expect that their doctors will provide them with care that meets or exceeds the standard set by the medical profession. If a New York doctor is not physically or mentally at his best when caring for a patient, there is an increased risk for medical negligence.

The Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education is considering a new proposal that will allow residents to work up to 28 hours in a row. As of now, residents can only work 16-hour shifts.

Supporters of the proposal say that the current shift rules require physicians to leave as soon as their shift ends, even if that jeopardizes patient care. They also say that allowing longer shifts will better prepare residents for their lives as physicians.

However, data shows that exhausted residents are putting patient lives at risk by performing procedures while tired. A sleep-deprived physician is more likely to make mistakes such as accidentally leaving a surgical instrument inside a patient or misdiagnosing a condition. One Harvard professor conducted a study that showed first year residents in the ICU for 24 hours straight were 36 percent more likely to make mistakes than those working shorter shifts. Additionally, residents also put their lives and the lives of other motorists at risk when driving home after a long shift. One UCLA study reported that one-fifth of residents reported falling asleep at the wheel due to being tired from work.

Council is listening to both sides and will likely make a decision in February 2017. In the meantime, a number of patients continue to suffer at the hands of tired physicians. If you have been injured due to medical negligence, a lawsuit may allow you to recover financial damages.

Source: Chicago Tribune, "Young Doctors could work 28 hours straight under new plan, despite risks," Melody Petersen, Dec. 19, 2016

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Michael J. Gaffney, Attorney at Law
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