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Do longer residents' shifts help or harm patients?

For decades, the number of hours that medical residents are required to work in one shift has been a source of debate and controversy. A study conducted by Harvard University found that residents made more than one-third more serious medical areas when they work a 24 or more hour shift.

One doctor who studies physician training says that after 24 hours, residents are "coming up against their limits of their capacity to function and all they can think about is sleep." He also points out that "interns have just graduated medical school. They are the least experienced, the least knowledgeable members of the medical team caring for patients."

That's why residents have been limited to 16-hour shifts. However, effective July 1, first-year residents will be allowed to work for 24 hours straight or even longer.

Obviously, this change is causing concern about the impact on patient safety. How good is a doctor's decision making ability after working for 24 hours or more straight?

However, some medical experts and young residents themselves say that the longer shifts allow them to provide a consistency of care that shorter shifts don't. Longer shifts require fewer hand-offs of care to other doctors. These hand-offs are where many errors in patient care occur. Longer shifts, they say, also allow residents to become more invested in the well-being of the patients for whom they're caring.

Medical errors can occur for a variety of reasons, including lack of sleep by a doctor as well as incomplete or inaccurate instructions given during a shift change. Therefore, if you believe that you or a loved one has been the victim of medical malpractice, it's essential to seek legal guidance from a California attorney who can work to ensure that the case is thoroughly investigated.

Source: CBS News, "Patient safety concerns over new 24-hour shift rule for first-year doctors," June 29, 2017

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