Depressed and sleep-deprived medical residents prone to errors

The maximum number of consecutive hours that a medical resident is permitted to work without a break was curtailed in 2011 when it was thought that errors made by these young doctors were occurring due to fatigue. A medical oversight board thought that cutting the number of consecutive hours a resident was permitted to work from 30 hours to 16 hours, would mean that residents would be able to sleep more and thereby make fewer errors.

However, as researchers continue to collect data around the medical errors committed by residents since this change, two studies published in the Journal of the American Medical Association both concluded that this change had the opposite effect on the rate of medical mistakes. Instead of being more rested and making less medical mistakes, the residents that work shorter shifts made medical mistakes that harmed patients as much as 20 percent more than the residents that worked under the previous time regulations.

Not only is this change harming patients, it is doing nothing to help the residents either. This change has not improved the amount of rest that residents get, nor has the change improved depression rates. Additionally, these residents are still required to do the same amount of work that they were required to do when they were allowed to work 30 consecutive hours, they just have a compressed window in which to do that work.

This is a serious issue. It remains to be seen how the medical community will respond to this troubling data. In the meantime, there are patients around the country, including here in Maryland, that are suffering because of these medical mistakes.

When a patient in Maryland suffers because of a mistake made by a resident or any other health care provider, compensation could be in order. Patients have a right to hold medical professionals accountable when there is a lapse in care. An attorney can assist a victim of a medical mistake in Maryland pursue compensation for their suffering.

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