As you know, physicians are not immune to the pressures of long hours of working in a hospital. But exactly how tired are they? A new study published in "Archives of Surgery" attempted to find out by measuring the risk of surgical error compared to the amount of sleep surgical residents received.
Specifically, the research was performed by giving 27 surgical residents instruments that measured their sleep, activity and mental fatigue. The residents got an average of five hours of sleep per day. According to the results, in nearly half of their waking hours, the surgical residents' mental capacity was impaired by 20 percent or greater. Furthermore, those working the late rotations were the most fatigued. No actual doctor errors were recorded because the study only measured the risk of error.
Research was also performed in 2009 to determine if surgeons had significantly higher complication rates when performing surgery the day after working overnight. The study found that there was no such risk. However, if the surgeon received less than six hours of sleep because of working overnight or performing an emergency procedure, there was an increased risk of surgical error.
Ultimately, if a physician makes a mistake because of lack of sleep, the patient may have a claim for medical malpractice and be entitled to compensation. In order to state a claim, a patient must show that the doctor acted negligently and the patient was injured as a result of the negligence. While not all unanticipated outcomes are the result of medical malpractice, patients that are harmed by a health care provider may want to contact a legal representative to assess their options and rights.
Source: Huffington Post, "Sleepy surgeons: new study shines light on risks of surgeon fatigue," Catherine Pearson, May 22, 2012