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Surprise study shows shorter shifts increase medical errors

In an effort to study the effects of reducing the shift times of hospital residents in Wisconsin and other states, two research groups surveyed more than 2,300 interns going into residency programs. Residents were sent surveys every three months, asking questions about their performance on the job, sleep habits and mental health. The surprising results of the study are that the risk of medical malpractice increases when residents are assigned shorter shifts.

According to the studies that are being published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, residents who worked a maximum of 16 hours without a break instead of 30 hours were up to 20 percent more likely to make a mistake. This finding clearly runs counter to the goal of the medical oversight board's decision to reduce shift times, which was to improve patient care and decrease errors made by sleepy doctors.

Researchers believe that shorter shifts lead to fewer educational opportunities and an increase in handoff risks. Handoff risks occur when a patient changes hands multiple times during their stay in a hospital. Additionally, some researchers think that residents are being expected to do the same amount of work in a shorter time frame.

When people visit medical professionals, they should not have to worry that they will not be treated improperly or will leave with a misdiagnosis. When people in Wisconsin believe that they have been harmed because of negligent doctors, they may want to speak with attorneys who may help them seek compensation for medical bills and other associated expenses.

Source: USA Today, "Studies: Residents make more errors on shorter shifts," Janice Lloyd, March 25, 2013

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