Long doctor shifts may have dangerous side effects on patients

Jul 27, 2011

Medical residents may be compromising care with sleep deprivation

Most resident doctors work long hours, possibly becoming overtired and putting their patient's lives at risk. A new set of rules for residency training was introduced this month, but a report in the Journal of Nature and Science found that some experts believe these requirements may still fall short.

"Few people enter a hospital expecting that their care and safety are in the hands of someone who has been working a double-shift or more with no sleep," said Dr. Lucian Leape, a professor of health policy at the Harvard School of Public Health and a co-author of the report.

Researchers reviewed doctor's work hours, supervision and safety. The new regulations require that first-year residents may only work 16 straight hours, but those with more experience may be allowed to work up to 28 hours. Some believe the 16-hour limit should stretch across the board.

These new regulations were put into place after a government study showed that close to 180,000 patients die each year from harmful medical care, many of whom may not have had life insurance. Residents are often caring for extremely sick patients, and a lack of sleep may unnecessarily put their lives at risk. 

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