Furr & Henshaw
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Sleep deprivation among physicians affects patient care: Part I

In recent years, the federal government has invested an extraordinary amount of time and resources to address the issue of trucker fatigue. When commercial truck drivers fail to obtain adequate rest, their judgment, ability to react quickly and ability to perform their jobs safely becomes impaired. Many innocent bystanders die on American roads as a result of trucker fatigue. The same effort that has been put into addressing trucker fatigue must now be put into combating the critical patient safety hazard of physician fatigue.

Human error will always be a part of the professional landscape. However, it can be greatly minimized if the common contributors to human error are addressed. Along with inadequate preparation, holes in communication and other preventable factors, physician fatigue contributes to the prevalence of medical malpractice in America. Because just as sleep deprivation affects every aspect of trucking safety, it similarly impacts every element of patient safety.

Sleep deprivation is in some ways, a cultural rite within the medical community. Sleep deprivation is a sign of commitment to the job at personal cost. The larger issue however, is that it costs patients even more than the sleepy physicians. According to recent research, surgical complication rates increase significantly when physicians do not obtain adequate rest the night before procedures. In addition, medical error rates among both interns and residents spike when providers are sleep deprived.

What can be done to change this cultural norm and help to ensure that physicians achieve adequate rest before treating patients? Please check back in later this week as we continue our discussion.

Source: The Huffington Post, "Doctors Are Human; They Need Sleep," Dr. Michael J. Breus, Nov. 5, 2012

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