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Shorter hours may increase medical errors

Ohio residents may have seen a new study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association that shows surprising results. According to the report, shorter hours for residents actually increased medical errors by 15 to 20 percent. The original purpose of the study was to determine if decreasing hours that doctors worked without a break from 30 to 16 would decrease incidents of hospital malpractice. However, the results seem to show the opposite is true.

Residency programs are not regulated by federal rules; instead, they are governed by the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education. This agency has been revising residency standards since 2003. While the shorter shift was believed to reduce errors, the study points out problems with that assumption. Apparently, asking doctors to perform the same amount of work in less time has increased medical errors as they become rushed to complete tasks.

Others point out that "handoffs," when patients are shifted from one doctor to another during a single care incident, increas with shorter work schedules and may increase the possibility of mistakes. Further, reduction in work hours decreases training time. Moreover, there is no evidence that shorter hours have increased the amount of sleep residents get or lowered their overall stress levels.

Victims of medical malpractice may be able to recover damages from the doctors and hospitals who treated them. These victims may benefit from consulting a medical malpractice attorney to learn about the various types of damages they may recover, including medical costs for further treatment, living expenses, pain and suffering and even punitive damages.

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

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