Tired Resident Doctors Prone to Error

Despite reforms in medical training, many resident doctors are still sleep-deprived and therefore more likely to make mistakes than well-rested doctors in training, according to an Institute of Medicine study, as reported by Tara Parker-Pope of the New York Times.

In 2003, the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education capped resident doctors’ working hours at 80 per week. Before that, young medical school graduates could average 110 hours a week. But even now, with the hours capped at 80 hours a week, the Institute of Medicine report reveals that there are common violations of the 80-hour cap, although residents rarely complain. Eighty hours itself is a demanding routine even without the excess hours.

Consequences of sleep deprivation are many – including irritability, impaired judgment, and inability to concentrate – and each of these can debilitate the doctors in performing and thinking through their tasks. For better patient care and the health of the resident doctors, the Institute of Medicine recommends allowing an uninterrupted nap time for up to five hours.

It’s not clear from this latest study how reform will be instituted and who will pay for it. Leaders in the field acknowledge that it will be expensive to put in place the same kind of mandatory rest periods that workers in other industries, like truck drivers, have.

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