The Danger of Sleep Deprivation for Doctors
January 5, 2017
Doctors have highly important and stressful jobs. However, many suffer from sleep deprivation due to long shifts and rigorous work schedules. Sleep deprivation can cause an array of mental and physical problems, putting doctors and their patients at risk.
One example of just how seriously sleep deprivation affects our abilities to function is illuminated in a study conducted by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. The foundation found that when drivers have only 5 to 6 hours of sleep per night that their driving abilities are similar to someone who is drunk or impaired. In addition to those findings, the AAA Foundation also found that when people have had that same amount of sleep, their chances of being involved in a vehicular accident actually double. When someone gets 7 or more hours of sleep, however, they are considered to be much more capable and safe than someone who is sleep deprived.
It is typical for a doctor to sleep 5 to 6 hours per night, which puts them in the same category as an impaired driver based on the AAA’s report. Not only is it dangerous for them to travel to and from work but also extremely risky and dangerous for them to practice on patients when they have not had enough sleep.
Sleep deprivation can causes memory lapses and impaired judgment,. Doctors must be able to make quick, integral judgment calls should the unexpected happen or if a patient’s health takes a turn for the worst.
On top of this problem that doctors are currently facing, the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME) has put forward an official proposal for an increase in the number of hours in a row that a new doctor is allowed to work. The proposed increase will allow for young doctors to work 28 hours in a row as opposed to the 16 consecutive hours they are currently allowed to.
The rule on how many consecutive hours a young doctor, or first year resident, is allowed to work has changed several times in past years. A bit over five years ago, the limit was 30 hours in a row. But in 2008, The Institute of Medicine put out a report that showed how unsafe and impractical it was for doctors to practice 30 hours in a row without sleep. In the following years, after the U.S. Congress got involved along with professional groups, the rule was changed to 16 consecutive hours, or 30 in a row with a required 5 hour protected sleep period that had to fall in the middle of the shift.
The ACGME has allowed for medical professionals and members of the public to contribute their opinions on the impending, proposed shift length. In response to the proposal, a new research study has been formed. It is called iCompare and was activated by the Harvard Medical School, the University of Pennsylvania, and Johns Hopkins University. This research trial’s goal is to study the affects that a doctor’s sleep deprivation has on their clinical colleagues and nurses, medical practitioners who serve as important part of the medical team and can contribute to the prevention of serious medical errors. One can only hope that as the study continues to research and document the negative outcomes of sleep deprivation that the proposal of shift length may change to accommodate the important findings.
With the proof that sleep deprivation poses serious risks to both a person’s health as well as their mental aptitude and cognitive abilities, it should be obvious that doctors need to be able to get a healthy, normal amount of sleep. Sleep deprivation not only functions similarly to drunkenness in terms of being impaired, but it also causes people to be at higher risk of depression, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, obesity and Alzheimer’s. Increasing the amount of hours in a row that doctors are able to work, whether or not they are new to the profession or have been practicing for years, will increase the chance for medical errors and mistakes. This puts patients at risk for treatment and surgical errors that could severely compromise their quality of life. At times, a sleep deprived doctor’s mistake could even prove to be fatal. Perhaps the medical system will begin to account for the health and wellbeing of doctors and patients alike, and make the necessary changes to insure healthier, safer outcomes.
Philadelphia Medical Malpractice Lawyers at Galfand Berger, LLP Represent Victims of Medical Negligence
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