Patients appreciate the devotion of hardworking medical care specialists. However, there is a difference between hardworking and overworking - the latter of which is professionally negligent. It is expected that doctors come to their jobs with a fresh mind as any lapse in focus can lead to serious harm.

Residents of University of Chicago's internal medicine residency program are not permitted to work indefinitely long shifts, according to the program's director. National rules, which date back to 2003, cap the length of shifts. Furthermore, the regulations have been tightened this year. Specifically, first-year residents or interns may not work more than 16 hours in a row, and others cannot exceed 28 hours of working time in one shift.

The rules developed from the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education, which aimed to address years of overworked medical personnel who made a series of life-threatening medical errors. Unfortunately, while regulations may have evolved, sources report that many medical facilities are not following suit.

According to a 2008 study, three hospitals found that 87 percent of interns reported working past the regulatory shift limits. To circumvent the shift restrictions, research suggests that doctors routinely lie when reporting hours worked. However, the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) warns that avoiding such rules could be very dangerous.

Working long hours without adequate rest can lead to significant errors. A study published in JAMA notes that interns who were not given at least a five-hour break between shifts averaged less than two hours of sleep per night. On the other hand, interns who slept longer were much more revitalized and alert the following day.

The risk of sleep deprivation has been established through various studies. For example, according to a study conducted by Harvard researchers, attending surgeons and obstetricians/gynecologists who get less than six hours of sleep between procedures risk increasing the rate of surgical errors and complications.

The study examined how working at night and lack of sleep affected the rate of surgical complications in procedures performed the subsequent day. The study found that when doctors worked overnight but had sufficient sleep, there was not a significant increase in the risk for complications on procedures. However, if study participants received less than six hours of sleep the night prior to a post-nighttime procedure, there was a 2.7-fold greater risk of procedural issues, including wound failure, infection and bleeding.

The problem is that the poor habits are enforced by medical culture and years of tradition. When physicians depart from acceptable standards of medical care, a person could be harmed or a life could be lost. If you have been harmed by suspected medical negligence, contact an experienced medical malpractice attorney as you may be entitled to compensation for your injuries or losses.


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