The number of hours that medical interns work is legendary. As of 2003, a typical young doctor was on call for up to 36 hours at a time. As of 2011, that number was 30 hours. It's not surprising that many people have come to fear that exhausted interns may cause more medical or surgical errors. As a result, in 2011, the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME) passed nationwide standards limiting interns to 16-hour shifts.
However, according to two recent studies published in JAMA Internal Medicine, shorter shifts may not lead to safer hospitals.
The first study was conducted by researchers from Johns Hopkins University. The study found that, despite the shorter 16-hour shifts, the number of hours of sleep that each intern got did not increase. On the contrary, the shorter shifts reduced the amount of training time each intern received. The shorter workday also caused the interns to hand off more patients to other interns, which can actually increase the likelihood of errors.
In the second study, researchers at the University of Michigan studied 2,300 physicians at 12 hospital systems nationwide. The researchers surveyed interns on 16-hour shifts and compared that data with information from interns who worked longer shifts prior to 2011.
The study found that, in 2010, just before the new rules went into effect, 19.9% of interns reported making an error that harmed a patient. However, after the rules went into effect, that number increased to 23.3%. Of these errors, half were medication mistakes, 20% were missed diagnoses, 20% were the wrong treatment and 10% were procedural or surgical errors.
The author of the second study speculates that the reason for the increase in errors after 2011 was that many interns felt that they had to complete the same amount of work during a shorter shift.
Consult a medical malpractice attorney
Medical errors cause countless injuries and deaths of patients every year. In many cases, medical mistakes can rise to the level of medical malpractice. In Connecticut, physicians or surgeons who commit malpractice can be held liable for the damages that result.
Malpractice victims are entitled to recover expenses such as pain and suffering, loss of wages and medical bills. If you or a loved one have been injured because of a medical error, contact an experienced medical malpractice attorney. An attorney can investigate the circumstances surrounding the error, determine if malpractice occurred and work to hold the responsible parties accountable.