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Shorter shifts for resident doctors lead to more errors

South Carolina residents may be aware that researchers have made a counterintuitive discovery that shorter shifts for resident doctors in hospitals lead to a greater number of errors. According to two studies being published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, misdiagnosis and other medical errors are more likely when residents work 16 hours without a break as opposed to 30 hours.

The goal of the medical oversight board shortening shifts for residents was to reduce errors made by sleepy doctors according to a study done by the University of Michigan Medical School. However, in practice, residents working the shorter shift are 15 to 20 percent more likely to make a mistake. Two possible reasons for this are that residents are not sleeping more in spite of shorter shifts and increasing "handoff risks." When a patient does not have the same medical professional looking after them for an extended period of time, important diagnostic information may be missed.

Researchers sent surveys every three months to over 2,000 students entering residency programs in 2009, 2010 and 2011 asking about their sleep habits, overall well-being and health. The surveys showed that students' sleeping habits were largely unchanged even after being put on a shorter shift. Self-reported errors also increased, and some residents also showed signs of depression.

If someone has been harmed due to a negligent or inattentive medical professional, they may want to speak with a medical malpractice lawyer. A lawyer may let them know what their legal options are and if they have recourse.

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

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