Is Doctor Fatigue Putting Patients At Risk For Medical Errors?

By Peter DePaolis

doctor operationWhile being tired while working in any profession can be hazardous, when you’re fatigued while working in the medical profession, the stakes are even higher. Physician fatigue can cause serious bodily harm to patients.

Residency is the program medical graduates go into to learn and practice medicine in real-world setting with professional guidance and supervision. This is where residents are essentially physicians-in-training and work themselves to exhaustion to absorb as much hands-on experience as possible. However, these types of extended shifts and exhaustive learning process can actually put patients at risk for medical errors.

Medical Errors Occur With Doctor Fatigue

Resident shifts can be as long as 24 to 36 hours non-stop. However, studies show fatigued health care workers increases the risk of errors, including the following:

  • Misdiagnosis
  • Delayed diagnosis
  • Traumatic birth injuries
  • Medication errors
  • Errors in anesthesia
  • Surgical errors
  • Emergency room errors

In 2011, the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME) made some changes to the amount of hours residents are allowed to work each week. Residents can now work no more than 80 hours per week over four week periods. Interns are now limited to 16-hour shifts. Residents higher than first years can work up to 24 hours in one shift. However, this allows some flexibility and can be stretched up to 30 hours.

A study conducted by the Journal of the American Medical Association shows residents are lying on their time logs in order to underreport the actual amount of time spent at the hospital. In one survey, 20 percent of surgical residents say they falsified their time records, 11 percent submitted false reports once a week and 4 percent falsely logged their time daily.

However, one would think combining fatigue with inexperienced medical professionals is a recipe for medical disasters. Hospitals and the ACGME need to be more diligent in enforcing the time restrictions.

D.C. Medical Malpractice Attorneys Can Help with a Doctor Fatigue Case

The Washington, D.C. medical malpractice attorneys at Koonz McKenney Johnson & DePaolis LLP help those injured due to medical errors. Contact us today to speak to one of our attorneys.


About the Author
Peter DePaolis joined the firm in 1980 and has since represented a large number of individuals involved in automobile collisions, truck accidents, bus crashes, defective products, and medical malpractice cases. A significant portion of Mr. DePaolis’ practice is devoted to working on behalf of people suffering from asbestosis, mesothelioma, and other asbestos-related cancers. He has led his firm’s fight against the asbestos industry and has recovered over $30 million in damages for asbestos victims and their families.