Shorter shifts lead to more medical residency errors

By Rheingold Giuffra Ruffo & Plotkin LLP

Hospitals and other health care centers in New York perpetually revamp their practices and protocols in efforts to increase patient safety, but recent studies that appeared in the Journal of the American Medical Association indicate that shorter medical resident shifts lead to increased errors. The studies show that a workplace regulation that was implemented to limit the hours doctors in training work might need to be re-evaluated. The regulation was put into place to increase the patients’ safety as well as the trainees’ well-being. However, studies show that the ideal results are not achieved by the regulation.

Doctors in training were ideally supposed to obtain more sleep, and residents’ depression rates were predicted to lower, resulting in more effective care for patients as a result of the regulation. However, researchers are concerned that the regulation resulted in a 15 to 20 percent increase in medical errors that harmed patients as opposed to those doctors in training who worked longer shifts. The reports showed that the doctors in training failed to get more sleep and that 20 percent of patients still tested positive for depression.

The federal regulations that mandate most workplace hours do not apply to medical residency programs. Instead, the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education oversees the hours for residency training programs. The unintended consequences of the shorter shifts hours are under scrutiny and increase the number of handoff risks that patients face.

Balancing shift times with patient safety can be a complex science, but it is of the utmost importance to doctors, patients and facilities alike. Increased medical errors lead to increased medical malpractice claims, and the consequences of medical malpractice can be severe, resulting in patient injury or death. New York residents and their families who incur these hardships may be able to seek compensation in civil lawsuit.

Source: USA Today, “Studies: Residents make more errors on shorter shifts,” Janice Lloyd, March 25, 2013

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