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27 percent of Orthopedic residents at Harvard hospitals impaired

When most people think of Harvard things like elite, best in class and quality education come to mind. But according to a study published in the May issue of Archives of Surgery, 27 percent of orthopedic residents at two of Harvard's hospitals reported they were operating impaired from a lack of sleep. These are physicians that are in training who are operating on an average of a little more than five hours of sleep each day.

When you consider that this lack of sleep can be the equivalent of being legally too drunk to drive, it makes one really think about not only the quality of care they receive at these facilities but the quality of their physician's training as well. The impairment from the lack of sleep reported in the study was as severe as what you could expect from someone with a blood alcohol level of 0.08 percent, according to a doctor from Massachusetts General Hospital. So this begs the question, how much does this lack of sleep and impairment affect the chance for a medical mistake?

This fatigue-related impairment is said to increase the risk of these doctors making a medical mistake by an average of 22 percent. On an individual basis this could equate to an increase in the risk of a medical error anywhere from 7 to 49 percent. To consider an orthopedist working on your body has an almost 50 percent chance of making an error, well that is simply alarming data.

Medical errors are all too common in today's health care environment. Whether it's a medication error, surgical mistake or a misdiagnosis, consumers should be able to expect better care from our health care providers. Medical malpractice laws are designed to help those who have been injured through substandard medical care and filing such a claim can only help prevent these same mistakes from happening to others in the future.

Source: Becker's ASC Review, "27% of Participating Orthopedic Residents Impaired by Lack of Sleep at Harvard Hospitals," Rachel Fields, May 22, 2012

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