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In our last post, we discussed the unfortunate similarities between drunk drivers and exhausted surgeons in Pittsburgh. A recent study showed that most surgeons were so exhausted that they were only functioning at about 70 percent of their mental effectiveness during about 30 percent of their shifts. That level of impairment is comparable to a driver who is legally drunk.
The study concluded that many surgical residents were so exhausted that their chances of causing surgical errors increased by more than 20 percent. But what can be done to help reduce those risks? Even regulations limiting the number of hours surgeons worked were not enough to ensure they entered operating rooms well-rested. So what can be done?
About a year ago, the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education enacted new rules stating that first-year residents should work no more than 16 hours straight. However, the rules do not apply to more experienced residents, who are allowed to work 28-hour shifts. It will also reportedly cost nearly $1.7 billion to implement these rules nationwide, mainly because of the cost of hiring additional staff members.
But there may be other solutions. One of the researchers suggested recording the time of day when the surgeons were most mentally fatigued. Knowing when they are most likely to make dangerous mistakes could enable interventions to help prevent those medical errors.
Health care professionals know there are at least two options that could help reduce the number of surgical errors caused by exhausted surgeons, but there has been little traction in making those changes happen. What will it take for national changes to be implemented to ensure that impaired doctors are not operating on some of the most vulnerable patients?
Source: Fox News, “Tired surgical residents may up error risk, study suggests,” Reuters, May 22, 2012