Doctors Shouldn't Sleep On The Job

There are laws governing the amount of time that most people are allowed to spend on the job. Some jobs have stricter standards than others. For instance, commercial airline pilots are not supposed to go over a certain amount of hours in the air over a 24 hour period. Truck and bus drivers have similar restrictions in that they are not supposed to drive more than 10 hours a day. Similarly, those that work in the maritime industry have limitations to the amount of time that they can spend on the job. Maritime personnel usually work on a 6 hour on/6 hour off period over a certain length of time. The reason that these rules are in place is to make sure that everyone involved in positions where lives are at stake are working at the highest possible level. Adequate time off of the job over a 24 hour period is necessary for a lot of reasons, the most important of them being sleep. The quality of anyone’s work diminishes over long hours, and with jobs that involve health care or public safety, the quality of work is something that shouldn’t diminish at all. It is therefore baffling to us that while truck drivers, airline pilots, firemen, paramedics and practically every other profession has time restrictions, but medical and surgical residents operating in hospitals all over the country do not. While medical residents actually have limits on the amount of hours that they can work, these hours are limited to the week as opposed to the day, and as a result medical residents work shifts that last can last up to thirty hours. And just to be clear, medical residents are doctors or surgeons in training. This involves making medical diagnoses and administering medical treatment. This involves inserting chest tubes or intubating patient’s lungs. While there is oversight from more experienced doctors, these residents mostly roam the hospital with complete independence. This is something you might want to consider when you have to pay a visit to the hospital. Your health might be in the hands of someone who hasn’t had more than a catnap in 24 hours. The Numbers A Harvard Medical School Study led by Dr. Christopher Landrigan brought to light some very disturbing statistics about errors made by residents that had been working the standard thirty hour shift at Harvard Medical School. They chose a pool of medical interns and divided them into two groups. The first group was made to continue to perform the standard 30 hour shift every other day with alternating ten hour shifts. The second group was made to perform a shorter shift that limited the amount of consecutive hours that they could work at 16. Both groups were required to log the amount of hours that they slept. As part of Dr. Landrigan’s Study, a team of physicians working in eight hour shifts shadowed the residents involved in the experiment for their entire shift, and chronicled every error that they made. These errors were then turned over to two separate physicians in order to verify that these were in fact medical errors that were being made by the residents. The verifying physicians were unaware of the schedules that the residents were using. The study found that interns and residents made 35.9 percent more serious medical errors when they were working on the traditional 30 hour intern schedule, and this included 20.8 percent more medication errors and more than five times as many serious diagnostic errors. What is fascinating (and by equal measure disturbing) about the article that referenced this study is that everyone in the medical establishment found the findings shocking. The medical establishment is, for lack of a better term, a very macho environment, and learning to go without sleep is apparently part of the process. But if this process is causing overtired doctors to make major errors, then perhaps it is time to revamp the whole system. You shouldn’t have to hope that when you are treated at a hospital, your doctor has had enough sleep. This culture of sleeplessness is very rarely mentioned when the insurance companies manufacture a malpractice “crisis” and make it seem like every lawsuit is a frivolous waste of time. Perhaps one step towards lowering the rate of medical malpractice suits would be to eliminate the environment that allows such mistakes to happen. If you or a loved one has suffered due to a mistake due to a doctor or other medical professional, contact our offices for a free legal consultation today.

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