Here’s that all important reason why doctors often have long working shifts on the job.

On average, doctors in the United States work almost 60 hours per week; and even younger staff often work up to 80 hours, and often endure a tiring 24- hour working shift. This surely seem like a disaster waiting to happen; according to research, sleep deprivation can lead to the incompetence of people’s working attitudes. Considering the working demands of medical care, its more likely that the working shifts of doctors could get people hurt. However, there’s a convincing reason why doctors prefer working under such conditions: It could save a soul.

Related media: Surgeons Reveal The TRUTH About 24-Hour Shifts!

Once Upon A Medical Time

Counterintuitively, it seems reducing the number of working hours for doctors does not necessarily reduce medical errors. In 1984, an 18-year-old girl called Libby Zion, died after being admitted to a hospital with a high fever. Her father learned that the doctor who was in charge of her daughter’s case had been on duty for almost 24 hours. He later sued the hospital for murder of her daughter. This issue became so widespread that it led to reforms that cut down the number of working hours for doctors throughout the United States.

Surprisingly, these reforms didn’t significantly reduce the occurrence of medical errors. In a 2014 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), researchers found that even though the shifts of newly trained doctors had been cut down by half in many cases, there were no significant difference between the number of errors committed by doctors who rested and those who didn’t rest two years before the shift regulations were enforced.

However, the fact remains at large: sleep deprivation can produce similar effects to alcohol intoxication; and doctors really want to reduce number of medical errors regardless of the causes. As of 2019, trials are still underway to identify the correlation between working hours, shift and sleep policies, and personal commitments to a good sleeping habit.

Hand-Off, Not Sign-Off

Image: Healthy Women / iStock / Getty Images Plus

The major culprit responsible is the risk of changing a patient’s doctor. This routine is known as “patient handoff,” — which requires a lot clear and concise information about the patient condition, prognosis, and treatment being communicated to the next doctor accurately. This is what often goes wrong and cause medical errors like the case of Libby Zion.

Its virtually guaranteed that details about a patient’s health will be lost when communicating them to another doctor. Roughly 80 percent of serious medical errors are caused by the miscommunication of patient handoffs. There was no standardized protocol for patient handoffs in effect as at the time of the “Libby Zion” case, so doctors had to implement ad-hoc ways of communicating the conditions and prognoses of multiple patients all at once.

It seems sleep deprived doctors who have firsthand information about a particular patient are less likely to make an error than alert doctors who have little information about a patient’s conditions, prognoses or another developing factor. Nowadays, hospitals enforce strict patient handoffs protocols and implement their own “fatigue-mitigation” strategy (oh my word!) — this include several scheduled naps, taking in caffeine, and letting staff plan and design out their working schedules.

Reducing The Errors

A 2018 Consumer News and Business Channel (CNBC) report says that medical errors represent the third highest cause of death in the United States — right behind cancer and heart disease. Yikes! Inadequate training, undiagnosed medical complications, and technological problems were labeled as some of the causes. However, sleep deprivation was the major culprit. Healthcare data siloing — the difficulty involved in accessing patient medical records from other doctors or a third-party sources — poses an even serious threat as far as the records of a patient’s health could either mean their chance at survival or death.

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Written by: Nana Kwadwo, Wed, Jun 12, 2019.


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