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Sleep deprivation among physicians affects patient care: Part II

Earlier this week, we began a discussion about the ways in which physicians' lack of sleep is impacting patient safety and the quality of patient care in America. We noted specifically that sleep deprivation is frequently a contributor to the kinds of medical errors which lead to medical malpractice suits. Failure to address the issue of physician sleep deprivation will only lead to these mistakes repeating over and over again.

The image of a sleep-deprived physician is well represented in American pop culture. Each night on television, doctors working at fictitious hospitals battle the kinds of long shifts that real physicians are exposed to on a regular basis. At times, even these programs highlight just how much destruction can be caused by an understandably sleepy physician. However, broad solutions do exist which can largely address this seemingly ever-present hazard.

First, it is critical that medical schools and teaching hospitals expose novice physicians to the signs and symptoms of sleep deprivation and sleep disorders. "Teaching sleep" can help to enable physicians to recognize these issues in their patients as well as in themselves. Currently, fewer than five percent of American medical schools require students to spend more than four hours of time learning about sleep.

In addition, hospitals and other medical institutions can keep the importance of sleep in mind when crafting schedules, safety protocols and tools designed to keep patients safe and physicians accountable. All the imagination and innovation that swirls around hospitals should be channeled in part to address this issue.

When you are sleep deprived, your judgment is impaired. And unfortunately, the more tired you are, the less you are able to properly discern just how tired you are. Physicians need to avoid this fatigue breaking point by obtaining adequate rest and by receiving support from the medical community to seek that rest. Patient outcomes depend on this kind of approach to sleep.

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

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