The experienced medical malpractice attorneys of Passen & Powell have previously written on the problem of overtired residents – doctors who have completed medical school but are still in training – and the increased numbers of medical errors which they cause. In fact, several significant studies have demonstrated that when residents, particularly surgical residents, work long shifts with insufficient rest periods between shifts, patient care suffers and medical errors rise.
This is why new guidelines were recently put in place requiring “shorter” shifts for residents. Unfortunately, however, a follow-up study has now revealed that despite the new guidelines, surgical residents are still suffering from fatigue sufficient to significantly affect their performance. The average orthopedic surgical residents at several hospitals were, despite the new guidelines, only averaging five-and-a-half hours of sleep per night.
In fact, roughly 25 percent of the time, the average surgical resident is often operating at a level of fatigue causing “impairment” at the level of someone who is legally drunk (a .08 blood alcohol level). Is it any wonder, then, that surgical residents often commit medical errors and medical malpractice? If we would not want people at this level of impairment driving a car, do we really want them operating on ourselves and our loved ones?
The average surgical resident was, due to fatigue, functioning at about 70 percent of their mental effectiveness more than one-quarter of their waking hours. Researchers have calculated that this level of impairment creates a risk of medical error increased by an astounding 22 percent.
This effect was even greater in residents working the night shift. These residents functioned at an even greater level of impairment – mental effectiveness below 70 percent – nearly a third of the time.
This result is not surprising to our experienced medical malpractice attorneys. Indeed, under the much-touted new rules on resident fatigue, first-year residents are limited to 16-hour shifts. Older residents, however, are permitted to work 28-hour shifts. It is obvious to any reasonable person that these “shorter” shifts are still far too long for doctors tasked with performing surgeries.
If you or a loved one were a victim of medical error during a surgery involving a resident, it is worth looking into whether resident fatigue may have been a factor in your injuries. Talk to an experienced attorney, who can help you to determine what happened in your case, and whether legal action is warranted.
For a free consultation with an experienced Chicago medical malpractice lawyer at Passen & Powell, call us at (312) 527-4500.