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Fewer hours, more errors: hospital patients at risk

Hospital residents in New York started working fewer hours in an effort to give them more time to sleep as well as improve patient safety. While many experts believed that reducing the number of hours residents could work would decrease medical errors, a new study found that this belief was wrong.

Despite new regulations reducing the number of hours a resident could work during a shift from 24 to 16, studies found that medical errors have actually increased and more residents report feeling less prepared for their duties. This finding was a surprise to many experts, leaving them to ask why fewer hours lead to more medical errors?

The study reported that while doctors-in-training were working fewer hours, they did not get any more sleep and medical errors reported by residents increased from 19 to 23 percent under the new regulations. Researchers said that there were several reasons residents had more errors despite working fewer hours in a shift. The main reasons included:

  • Feeling pressured to complete the same amount of work in shorter shifts
  • Having to take care of too many patients because some hospitals are understaffed
  • Not as much time to re-check patients, which can increase the risk of errors
  • Handoff risks: more residents caring for a patient increases the risk of miscommunication and errors

The researchers said that it may take some time for residents to get used to the new reduced working hours and safety may improve in the future. However, patients are still at risk under these new rules and it is important for victims of medical errors to understand their rights and what options are available if they have been harmed by a medical error.

Source: Time, "Fewer Hours for Doctors in Training Leading to More Mistakes," Alexandra Sifferlin, March 26, 2013

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