Patient safety experts call for shorter resident physician shifts

A group of physicians and patient safety experts, including HSPH’s Lucian Leape, adjunct professor of health policy in the Department of Health Policy and Management, have written a report that calls for shorter shifts and increased supervision for resident physicians. Starting July 1, new rules will limit first-year residents to shifts of no longer than 16 straight hours, but do not restrict hours for more experienced residents. These guidelines do not go far enough to protect patients from fatigue-related errors by residents, say the authors. Their report, published online June 24, 2011, in the journal Nature & Science of Sleep, recommends limiting all resident physician shifts to 12 to 16 hours, with at least 10 hours off between shifts, and calls for increased supervision of residents by attending physicians.

“Few people enter a hospital expecting that their care and safety are in the hands of someone who has been working a double-shift or more with no sleep,” Leape said in a Reuters story. “If they knew, and had a choice, the overwhelming majority would demand another doctor or leave.”

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