Study: Patients Suffer When Surgeons are Tired

I’ve written before about efforts to limit the numbers of hours doctors (or at least medical residents) are required to work. But because all of today’s doctors went through residencies that required long hours, it is difficult to convince them there is anything wrong with the system. I noted that the New England Journal of Medicine had published an editorial arguing that there hadn’t been any studies proving bad things happen when doctors are tired.

Fortunately, some forward-thinking doctors decided more research was in order. In a recent issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association, a team at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston led by Jeffrey M. Rothschild, MD, reported on a study of whether complications are more likely from surgery when the surgeon is sleep-deprived.

Guess what? They are!

Overall, procedures performed the day after attending physicians worked overnight were not associated with significantly increased complication rates, although there was an increased rate of complications among post-nighttime surgical procedures performed by physicians with sleep opportunities of less than 6 hours.

An article from Physician Leadership News contains a quote about the required next step.

In a media briefing Tuesday, Rothschild said the study findings "raise the importance of professionalism and the need for physicians to step up to the plate. If they feel tired or they find a colleague is tired, to find another way to approach this problem."

I hope others in the profession listen to him. Especially the New England Journal of Medicine.

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