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Are medical residents' long hours compromising patient care?

Residency programs are an important part of all doctors' educations. They get the chance to put their medical knowledge into practice and treat patients hands-on while still under the supervision of fully qualified physicians. However, studies have shown that the long hours - sometimes even as long as 30 hours in a single shift - residents work can have an adverse effect both on the resident's health and patient care.

Long hours and grueling schedules

While it may seem unthinkable to those outside of the medical profession, residents' extended shifts have long been considered a rite of passage. It wasn't until 2003 that the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education limited how many hours a resident could work in a single shift. Since then, residents have been limited to 80 hours in a single week, and first-year residents cannot work more than 16 hours in a row. However, the 80 hours a week is averaged over four weeks and second-year and above residents can work 24-hours in one shift - 30 if needed for "continuity of care and learning." This means that many residents are working in an exhausted, sleep-deprived state that can be dangerous both to them and the patients under their care.

Potential risks to patients

Medical residents and their chaotic schedules are the subject of many a primetime TV show, but what happens when real people work these schedules in real life? First, any time a doctor or health care provider is overtired, there is an increased chance of a medical error occurring. Because of the precision of the medical field, even a seemingly minor error like failing to check for interactions with existing medications or missing a set of rounds can have life-threatening consequences. These medical errors are often more common during handoffs - when a resident is going off shift and must turn over the patient's care to another doctor. If a resident forgets to write something in the chart or notify the incoming doctor about an issue with the patient, it could lead to the patient failing to get the care he or she needs.

Medical errors happen for many reasons, but doctor fatigue shouldn't be one of them. If you believe that you suffered as a result of a medical error by an overtired health care provider, we may be able to help. Contact the Law Offices of Gary Osborne & Associates to discuss your care and possible legal options.

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