Study: Sleepy residents make more surgical mistakes

Posted on behalf of Stewart Bell, PLLC on May 28, 2012 in Medical Malpractice

This will not likely come as a surprise to anyone, but a new study conducted at two East Coast hospitals confirms that surgical residents who do not get enough sleep are more likely to make mistakes in the operating room. While the study was relatively small and the increased number of surgical errors was a statistically based prediction (as opposed to a figure derived from actual incidents) -- there is every reason to believe that numerous patient injuries and deaths can be at least partially attributed to medical malpractice caused by overtired surgeons and residents each year.

Unfortunately, this is a pervasive problem in the medical community and affects the quality of care West Virginia patients receive as well.

The 2010-2011study took place at two Boston-area hospitals and involved 27 orthopedic surgical residents. Researchers asked participants various questions about sleep habits, exercise, alcohol use, drug use and prescription use prior to the study, while participants kept sleep logs, work logs and wore special "wristwatches" that gauged their activity levels throughout the day.

The results? Residents received between 2.8 hours to 7.8 hours of sleep during the study, with the average amount of sleep being 5.3 hours per day. In comparison to data on well-rested surgical residents, researchers estimated that tired residents spent about 27 percent of their waking hours at or below 70 percent mental effectiveness -- a level equivalent to having a blood alcohol concentration level of .08, i.e., legally drunk.

Overall, researchers also found that residents on day shifts (a projected 19 percent increase in their risk of making a surgical error) fared a little better than residents on night shifts (a projected 24 percent increased risk).

Source: Reuters, "Tired surgical residents may up error risk: study," Andrew M. Seaman, May 21, 2012

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