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Drowsy Doctors Can Lead to Medical Errors

A new study found that fatigue among residents is not only prevalent, but dramatically increases the risk of medical errors.

Researchers followed 27 orthopedic residents over a two-week period and monitored their sleep and awake periods. The study participants also answered a questionnaire to assess their mental fatigue.

The researchers determined that residents were functioning at less than 80 percent mental effectiveness during 48 percent of their time awake. Even more concerning, the residents performed at less than 70 percent mental effectiveness during 27 percent of their awake time, which is equivalent to working with a blood alcohol level of 0.08 percent, the legal limit for impaired driving.

Overall, residents’ fatigue levels were predicted to increase the risk of medical error by 22 percent compared with well-rested residents. “A growing body of literature indicates that fatigue may have a substantial role in medical error,” stated lead author, Frank McCormick, MD, Harvard Combined Orthopaedic Residency Program, Massachusetts General Hospital.

The study acknowledges that combating fatigue among residents is not an easy task and may not always be reduced through scheduling changes alone. Citing fatigue studies involving the airline industry and nuclear power plants, the researchers suggest that similar models should be considered in residency programs in order to lower the risk for fatigue-related medical errors.

Source: MedScape