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Fewer hours increase resident errors

Two studies published in the Journal of the American Medical Association may surprise people in Massachusetts and around the country. These studies indicate that when resident physicians are working the shorter shifts that have been recommended by oversight boards, they tend to make more errors. These shifts are a movement from the traditional 30 hours to 16 hours. These studies also show that shorter hours do not improve residents' depression rates and that they are getting more sleep.

The working hours of medical residents are not federally regulated but are set by the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education. This group has been working on adjusting residents' work hours since 2003. Certainly some of the medical errors that the Council was trying to avoid were those of misdiagnosis. However, one expert states that the cause for the increase in errors is that the patient is being "handed off" more frequently between different professionals. It was also pointed out that the teaching hospitals are not increasing staff, thereby forcing the doctors to do more work in fewer hours, which is a stressor.

One doctor states that there are "many negative downsides" to these fewer hours in addition to the patient care changing hands, such as less training time for the physicians. He speculates that young people in general may not try to get as much as sleep as they should. More investigation will be done to get residents on shifts that are safe for patients and contain appropriate training.

Misdiagnosis is a very serious error, and it certainly can occur when several different people are receiving and analyzing a patient's test results. People who who have been injured by hospitals and physicians due to misdiagnosis may wish to consult medical malpractice attorneys who may explain their rights and options and recommend courses of action.

SOURCE: USA Today, "Studies: Residents make more errors on shorter shifts," Janice Lloyd, March 25, 2013

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