Medical residents still dangerously fatigued, despite work hour limitations

If you have ever been admitted to the hospital, you understand how nerve-wracking it can be to place your well-being in the hands of many strangers. In such situations, you often have no other option than to trust you will receive the best possible care to treat your illness or injury. Unfortunately, studies have frequently shown physicians are often fatigued or otherwise not at their best when on the job. Doctors who are not in peak condition are more likely to cause dangerous medical errors, including misdiagnoses and surgical errors.

As a result, rules were enacted to prevent first-year residents from working an excessive number of hours each week. Since July 2011, first-year residents have been restricted to a maximum of 16-hour shifts and must have at least 10 hours off between shifts. These rules do not affect residents after they have completed their first year, however.

Since the rules went into effect, many have questioned the impact they might be having on doctors and patients alike.

What are the effects of the resident work hour limits?

Some studies indicate the restrictions on the number of hours a first-year resident may work are not sufficient. For instance, a study of orthopedic surgical residents revealed the residents continued to be sleep deprived following the enactment of the rules. On average, the residents slept for 5.3 hours every day.

Based on the data gathered during the study, the researchers concluded that the residents were working at only around 70 percent of their "mental effectiveness" - the same as having a .08 blood alcohol content - over one-quarter of the time when they were awake.

The researchers used the information they gathered to determine that the sleep-deprived residents had a 22 percent higher chance of causing a surgical error than their alert colleagues.

The study also found that residents working during the day were better rested and less likely to cause a medical error than those on the night shift.

Another study conducted at the orthopedic residency program at Harvard questioned a sample of 216 residents about their sleep habits, among other issues. The study revealed that while the residents worked fewer hours than those before the hour limitations, they continued to sleep only around five hours per night. Nevertheless, there was a 20 percent drop in the number of residents who reported that tiredness affected the level of care they were able to provide to their patients.

Many residents in the study, however, reported that they did not feel as prepared to practice medicine as their counterparts had in years past.

Hold negligent physicians accountable for their medical errors

Regardless of the cause, those who have been injured by medical errors should hold the responsible party accountable. If you have been harmed by a medical error, consulting with a skilled Greensboro personal injury attorney will ensure your rights are protected.