Wake Up, Doc

Physician work schedules related to errors and complications

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) One way to reduce the risk of surgery complications or doctors' mistakes: make sure the doctor isn't overworked and under-rested.

Doctors are less likely to make a mistake when they work shorter shifts and have a cap on their weekly hours, according to a recent report.

Speaking with dailyRx, Dr. William Kohler, Director of the Florida Sleep Institute in Spring Hill, Florida, said the importance of sleep cannot be overstated.

"There's an enormous amount of potential for harm for physicians that are not fully alert while doing various types of procedures." Dr. Kohler said.

"Yes, getting enough sleep is essential to avoiding mistakes."

Dr. Christian De Virgilio, the lead author at the Los Angeles Biomedical Research Institute at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center, and his team analyzed the medical records of 2,470 patients who had laparoscopic gall bladder surgery before and after new rules were implemented regarding residents' work hours.

Approximately half of the surgeries were conducted before and half after the new rules, which limited doctors in training to 80 hours of work per week and shifts of no more than 30 hours at once.

Researchers said they were surprised to find a reduction of in the rate of surgery complications in the group that had surgery after the rules were implemented.

Dr. Sean Darcy, President of the Patient and Physician Safety Association and a University of California, Irvine Surgical Resident, said enforceable laws need to be passed that ensure health providers do not exceed the maximum number of allowable hours of work, which puts people's lives at risk.

"In the past year, there has been more attention given to air traffic controllers' sleep deprivation and the subsequent impact on the public than there has on the people tasked with performing surgeries and providing health care during what could be the most critical period of an individual's life," Dr. Darcy said.

Dr. Darcy said that many residents record fewer hours than they actually work or remain silent about the hours they are expected to work because they experience retaliation for speaking up.

The study was released by Los Angeles Biomedical Research Institute at Harbor-UCLA's Medical Center (LA BioMed).

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
December 23, 2011
Last Updated:
January 13, 2012