Fatigue Related Mistakes From Doctors Turn Fatal More Each Year

Every year tens of thousands of hospital patients are harmed as a result of fatigue related mistakes, some of them even die.

The Institute of Medicine is proposing revisions to the hours and amount of work medical residents take on.

They're hoping a change in the burden put on these doctors in training will lead to saved lives.

NBC Reporter Kristen Dahlgren explains.

Fifteen-year-old Lewis Blackman seemed to be the picture of a vibrant young life, but in 2000 he died from complications following elective surgery.

His family says it was because inexperienced and overworked medical residents missed clear warning signs that something was wrong.

His story is not uncommon.

Charles A. Czeisler, PhD, MD, Brigham & Women's Hospital said, "One out of five first-year residents admits to making a fatigue-related mistake that has resulted in patient harm and one out of 20 first-year residents admits to making a fatigue-related mistake that has resulted in the death of a patient."

A new report by the institute of medicine aims to change that... Recommending revised hours and workloads for residents.

Michael M.E. Johns, MD, Committee Chair, Emory University said, "Inadequate sleep, inadequate rest, leads to poor human performance which can lead to patient safety errors."

In 2003, the average resident work hours were reduced to 80 per week; but the workload has remained the same. So this new report goes further suggesting a maximum number of hours residents can work--without sleep.

Dr. Johns-"Work shifts should be no longer than 16 hours, if in fact there's going to be work that goes on beyond 16 hours there must be 5 hours protective sleep."

The report also suggests increases in the number of days residents should have off, and limits to consecutive night shifts and moonlighting during residents' off hours: Changes that will cost hospitals an estimated $1.7 billion more per year, if adopted. But families, like Lewis Blackman's, say that could prevent others from paying a much higher cost.

The committee also called for greater supervision of medical residents by experienced physicians.

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