Why Aren’t Hospitals Any Safer with Fewer Sleep-Deprived Trainee Doctors?

No one wants to be treated in a hospital by a doctor at the tail end of a 36-hour shift who is falling asleep on his or her feet. So the organization that supervises training programs for resident doctors mandated an 80-hour work week limit.

A provocative piece in the New York Times Magazine makes the case that shorter hours for residents hasn’t made hospitals any safer. Why?

  • Handoff errors — poor communications about patients between the doctor leaving a shift and the new doctor arriving — are still rampant in hospitals, because of lack of systematic training in how to do a proper handoff.
  • Lack of supervision, leaving residents to make decisions with little experience and no guidance.
  • Many hospitals flout the new rules, and residents work longer than they should.

It’s an issue that resists easy answers, as shown by the many comments to the article, which you can click here to read.

We have a good discussion of how handoff errors can lead to malpractice and preventable harm to patients on our firm’s website.

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