Doctor Fatigue Can Be Dangerous for Patients

Doctor Fatigue Can Be Dangerous for Patients

Doctors—especially newer doctors, such as medical residents—are notorious for working long hours and for potentially being called to work in the middle of the night for emergency procedures. Long shifts and being “on call” may seem like part of the profession, but these long-lasting trends of working exceptionally long hours can be dangerous for patients.

How Fatigue Can Affect Performance

Much attention has been paid in recent years to the dangers of fatigued driving, particularly among commercial truck drivers. The same concerns may be applied to fatigued individuals who are in the position to potentially cause harm to others—and this includes doctors. Medical professionals often have their patients’ best interests as their top priority, sometimes to their own detriment. They may not realize how much fatigue can affect their performance or even how fatigued they really are at the time.

Fatigue can impair abilities much like intoxication can, especially after being awake for more than 18 to 24 hours. Medical residents are not only awake for this long, but may be actively on duty. Fatigue can cause problems with judgment, attention, focus, reaction time, and more.

Shifts Are Only Getting Longer for Residents

In 2011, shifts for medical residents in the U.S. were capped at 16 hours due to concerns about fatigue. However, the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME) recently extended those limits to 28 hours for certain residents, which went into effect on July 1, 2017. These shifts can include 24 hours of patient care and an extra four hours to transfer a patient to the replacement doctor.

The ACGME justified the changes by stating 16-hour shifts were not always adequate for the resident to perform a procedure and to ensure that all post-operative care was provided, which can last beyond 16 hours. While there may be an educational benefit to longer shifts, it still does not eliminate the risks of patient injuries caused by doctor fatigue.

Common Fatigue-Related Injuries

While a wide variety of errors may be made in a hospital setting due to fatigued medical professionals, the following are some of the more common mistakes that can lead to serious injury:

  • Surgical errors—When a doctor is performing a surgery, she must be fully aware of everything she is doing and be extremely precise. Fatigue can cloud a doctor’s faculties. Even a brief loss of focus or slip of the hand can cause severe and unnecessary injuries or complications for the patient.
  • Medication errorsReceiving the correct dosage of the right medication is critical to many hospital patients. If a fatigued doctor forgets a dose, gives a double dose, or gives the wrong medication to the wrong patient, serious injuries can result.

Find Out How Our Richmond Medical Malpractice Law Firm Can Help

If you suffered unnecessary complications and you believe your doctor made an error, you should discuss a possible legal claim with an experienced medical malpractice attorney today. The lawyers of Emroch & Kilduff regularly help clients in Richmond, Petersburg, Tappahannock, and Fredericksburg, so please call for a free consultation at 804-358-1568.

William B. Kilduff


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