Occasionally when you’ve gone to visit your loved one, you may have seen medical students practicing their rotations, particularly if they are preparing to enter geriatric medicine, where there is an increasing demand in coming years with aging baby boomers.
Our Boca Raton nursing home negligence lawyers wouldn’t be surprised if you noticed these doctors-in-training with serious bags under their eyes too. That’s because the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education allows most residents to work up to 28 hours in a single stretch, as well as 88 hours in a week and 24 days in row – so long as they have a four-day break.
It’s an impossible schedule, and following some recent fatal car accidents involving these exhausted students who were leaving their shifts, many in the medical field are beginning to ask whether the current standards pose significant danger to patient safety and well-being. The answer thus far is a resounding: Yes!
The Wall Street Journal recently explored this issue in depth, speaking with a neuroscientist who serves as an associate professor at Harvard Medical School as well as the in the division of sleep for a Boston hospital. According to Dr. Steven Lockley, his own research found that first-year residents working a usual 24 to 30-hour shift in an intensive care unit were 36 percent more likely to have made a serious medical error than those who worked 16-hour shifts. What’s more, they were more than twice as likely to unintentionally fall asleep at work.
These same medical students were 60 percent more likely to accidentally harm themselves, such as poking themselves with needles.
Lockley’s team also reviewed nearly 25 studies conducted in 2010 on this issue and found that those medical students whose work limits were reduced reported vastly lower rates of error.
Unfortunately, little has been done to curb this problem. There are some who argue that these marathon shifts prepare students for what it is like to be a doctor. Others say that it’s especially important with medical residents that patients have continuity of care in order to reduce mistakes.
But any benefit either of these might offer is offset by this simple fact: Doctors are not inhuman. Neither are doctors-in-training. They are not immune to the effects of sleep deprivation. These are the people we trust with the care and well-being of our loved ones, who many times can not advocate for themselves. Yet here they are, charged with making sometimes critical care decisions about everything from medication and surgical options to long-term therapies and diet plans.
If you remain unconvinced, consider this: Driving drowsy is often considered to be just as dangerous as driving while intoxicated. Cognitive research conducted by the AAA Foundation found that people who hadn’t slept for 20 hours had response times that were 50 percent lower than those who had a full 8 hours of sleep. Their performance behind the wheel was in line with a person whose blood alcohol content was at 0.05 percent. After 24 hours, it’s akin to having a blood alcohol level of 0.10 (above the 0.08 percent legal limit). We’re asking medical students to be awake and working for stretches even longer than that, while expecting they will provide an appropriate level of care to our loved ones, both in the nursing home and in the hospital.
More most be done to address this critical issue.
Freeman, Mallard, Sharp & Gonzalez — 1-800-561-7777 for a free appointment to discuss your rights.
Should Medical Residents Be Required to Work Shorter Shifts? Feb. 18, 2013, Journal Reports, The Wall Street Journal
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