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Study Finds Medical Errors More Frequent During Night Surgeries

Patients who undergo surgery at night may be at greater risk for medical errors. A recent study found that patients who have surgery during the night are twice as likely to die as patients operated on during regular working hours.

Researchers examined 41,716 elective and emergency surgeries performed on 33,942 patients at a Canadian hospital to determine the relationship between postoperative mortality and the time of the day of surgery. The operations were categorized as taking place either in the daytime (between 7:30 am and 3:29 pm); during the evening (between 3:30 pm and 11:29 pm); or at night (between 11:30 pm and 7:29 am). The start time of the anesthetic was used to determine in which time block the surgery should be classified.

As Medscape.com reports, the researchers determined that 226, 97, and 29 deaths occurred during day, evening, and night surgery, respectively. After adjusting for age and overall health, the patients operated in the night were 2.17 times more likely to die than those operated on during regular daytime working hours. In addition, patients who underwent surgery in the late day were 1.43 times more likely to die than those operated on during regular daytime working hours.

The study did not examine why fatalities are more common during night surgeries. However, the researchers did note a number of potential contributing factors, including provider fatigue during anesthesia and surgery, overnight hospital staffing issues, delays in treatment (i.e., waiting for an operating room to become available), or the patient being too sick to postpone the surgery until the next day.

"Analysis of each of these possibilities is important to understand the reasons for this increased mortality and to direct any remedial action in an effort to reduce postoperative mortality," the researchers write.

If you or someone you care about has suffered serious harm due to a serious medical mistake, you may be entitled to compensation. For more information, please contact a San Diego medical malpractice attorney at the Law Offices of Robert Vaage for a free consultation.