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While 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 Fatigued Physicians
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:
- 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.