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Medical Residents and Serious Errors

Posted on May 6, 2010

Helen Haskell founded the patient advocacy group, Mothers Against Medical Error, after her son died from a preventable hospital failure.

Lewis Haskell was 15 and entered the hospital in 2000 for routine surgery. His doctor, a first-year medical resident had been on duty for more than 30 hours when the teen died. She had failed to rescue or respond to signs of decline in the patient’s health. His mother knows that fatigue played a role. Medical residents must work 30 hour shift as often as three times a month and that leads to errors.

A Harvard study from 2006 finds that 20 percent of first-year-residents say they’ve made a fatigue-related mistake. In some cases it has led to patient’s death. What can be done?

Haskell’s group along with Public Citizen is advocating lowering the number of hours a doctor works in one shift. It makes sense? How many pilots worth 25 to 30 hours at a time? The group has a Web site www.WakeUpDoctor.org where the public can share stories and get more information. The main resistance comes from the organization that sets standards for the training of physicians, The Accreditation Council on Graduate Medical Education (ACGME). In the past, it has convinced the Occupational Safety and Health Administration or OSHA to leave the shift lengths alone. By this July, the ACGME will make a decision about limiting work hours for residents working at member hospitals.