medical interns

Medical Errors and Shorter Shifts: A Dangerous Combination

medical internsWhile it may seem that medical professionals are making fewer mistakes, recent studies have shown that this is not the case and that first-year residents (interns) may make even more errors when they are working shorter shifts. What this could ultimately mean is that current regulations that are in place to keep medical professionals from working too long may need to be changed again. The new regulations were put into place in 2011, limiting interns to 16-hour shifts in order to keep patients safe; however there is new evidence that it may actually be doing the opposite.

According to a study by the University of Michigan, when the shorter shifts went into effect, it was noted that mistakes caused by first-year residents resulting in harm to patients increased by 15-20%. Also, comparatively, those interns who worked for the longer shifts made far fewer mistakes. Part of the reason that these mistakes occur is that the patient is handed off to another doctor more often, which increases the risk that something could go wrong. It was also discovered that the medical residents who had their hours cut were not getting any more sleep each week than they had been before. While the reasons for that were unclear, it seemed that having shorter shifts did nothing to keep the patients safer.

50% of the errors committed were in medications, 20% were missed diagnosis, another 20% were incorrect treatment and 10% were surgical or procedural errors. Healthcare professionals will have to analyze the data again to see if changing regulations back to longer shift hours would lead to making hospitals a safer place for patients.

More research needs to be done to find out what the best possible shift schedules are for medical interns and knowing how those schedules impacts mistakes. While it was for the intended benefit of the patients that these new guidelines were put into effect, it is clear that the new rules are not achieving their intended goal.

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