Resident Physician Fatigue Can Lead to Deadly Errors
As they train to become doctors, resident physicians work extremely long hours that are very intense. In the U.S., residents are permitted to work 80 hours per week, with shifts allowed to consist of up to 30 consecutive hour periods. A mere 8 hours is all that is required for the minimum rest between shifts. This limited time exists despite the fact that a panel of governmental scientists concluded it wasn’t safe for residents to work for longer than 16 hours continuously.
The Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME) is supposed to be regulating the work hours that residents work; however, a 2006 study discovered that 83 percent of residents reported violations in regards to their work-hours.
In September of 2010, a petition from the non-profit group Public Citizen was filed with the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), asking them to regulate the number of hours resident physicians are permitted to legally work.
The petition asks OSHA to limit the consecutive hours worked in a shift to 24 hours and institute a minimum of 10 hours of off-duty time between shifts. It also requests that on-call shifts are limited to every third night and that residents are granted at least one 24-hour period of off-duty time a week. The petition also proposed that residents be limited to 12 consecutive hours of on-duty time a day for emergency medicine residents who work in hospitals that receive more than 15,000 unscheduled visits by patients every year.
Dangers of Resident Fatigue to Patients
If a resident physician is exhausted, it directly results in a decrease in the quality of care and attention that patients receive. Alarmingly, Harvard researchers discovered that residents who worked a normal schedule of 24 hours consecutively or more made 36 percent more serious medical errors than residents who worked only 16 consecutive hours.
In a different study, researchers found that resident physicians who worked five or more 24 hour consecutive shifts a month reported fatigue-related errors that injured patients about 7.5 times than those who worked shorter shifts. They also reported four times as many fatigue-related errors that resulted in patient death than residents who worked shorter shifts.
Risks for Fatigued Residents
Fatigued resident physicians also endanger themselves as well. Pregnant residents who worked long hours without rest suffered pregnancy complications including high blood pressure, pre-term delivery, and birth to infants of low weight.
Studies have concluded that resident physicians who work overnight shifts of 24 hours consecutively or more are more likely to suffer needlestick injuries at a higher rate that residents who work fewer hours. This is particularly hazardous as hepatitis or HIV can be easily transmitted by blood via needles. Another study found that approximately 20 to 38 percent of all surgical procedures had a significant risk of potential exposure to hepatitis or HIV.
Several additional studies note that excessive work hours can have an effect on a person’s mental health, including suffering from irritability and depression.
Sleep Deprived Residents Harm Those Outside Hospitals
Exhausted resident physicians can also pose dangers to people outside of the hospital.
One tragic example is a recent fatal Chicago car accident involving a first-year resident at Rush Presbyterian Medical Center and a young girl. The resident rear-ended the girl’s car and caused her to suffer severe head injuries. The resident had just completed an overnight shift at the hospital and was lacking sleep.
A study by the Harvard Work hours, Health, and Safety Group established that resident physicians who work extreme hours pose a higher risk of being involved in motor vehicle accidents, particularly for residents immediately after working a 24 hour shift or more.
A different study found that resident physicians who worked 24 hour shifts or more overnight had similar cognitive dysfunctions as a person with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .04 or .05, near the legal driving limit of .08.
Do You Have a Florida Medical Malpractice Lawsuit?
Medical malpractice is when a health care professional; such as a doctor, resident physician, or nurse; fails to provide a patient with adequate treatment that is at least equal to the customary standard of care within the industry of medicine. In a medical malpractice lawsuit, a Jacksonville injury lawyer must be able to demonstrate that this failure caused the patient injury.
Any number of reasons can bring about a medical malpractice lawsuit, such as: a doctor’s negligence during a birth; cancer misdiagnoses; a failure to diagnose; medical equipment errors; improper drug use or prescription errors; surgical injury; or a resident physician fatigue-related mistake.
Contact Our Jacksonville FL Fatigue Medical Error Attorneys Today
If you believe you were injured by a fatigued resident while you were receiving treatment at a hospital or medical facility, contact the law office of Farah & Farah. Our Jacksonville fatigue medical error attorneys will talk with you about your options in pursuing a medical malpractice claim and discuss your legal rights. 855-797-9899.