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Fewer work hours could increase physician errors

Conventional wisdom dictates that fewer hours on the job for a physician means fewer errors because of less stress and more rest. A recent survey of health care providers, however, has reached the startling conclusion that the opposite may be true. Fewer work hours for hospital residents has led to more medical mistakes and more surgical errors.

A 1984 case of an 18-year-old girl who was taken to a New York hospital for convulsions and fever became one of the landmark cases that drove medical institutions to cut back on the hours that first-year residents were expected to spend on the job. After treating the girl for high fever, resident physicians had so many other patients to attend to and were getting so little rest that a follow-up evaluation came hours later. The girl's condition had worsened and she died not long after.

Today, many more hospital resident doctors around the country work just 16-hour shifts instead of the previous standard 30-hour shifts. Surprisingly, the latest study of 2,300 physicians showed a 15-20 percent increase in the number of errors that harmed patients -- and a 20 percent increase in physician depression.

The increases in both errors and depression were attributed primarily to two things: work compression (having too many tasks to do with not enough time) and poor handover during resident shift changes.

Medical negligence not only can prevent patients from getting well but also can exacerbate illness and injury. If they suspect negligence, patients or survivors of family members who die can file suit within New York state law's two-year statutory period. Anyone anticipating filing a suit should keep all records, data and prescriptions issued for investigation by a competent legal professional. Proven negligence can lead to compensation for medical and rehabilitation expenses, pain and suffering and lost wages or financial support.

Source: Time, "Fewer Hours for Doctors in Training Leading to More Mistakes," Alexandra Sifferlin, March 26, 2013