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Sleep-Deprived Doctors: New Limits for Residents

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By Cynthia Hsu, Esq. on August 12, 2011 6:51 AM

Most patients would prefer to avoid being treated by a sleep-deprived doctor.

Unfortunately for most patients, getting a doctor who is well-rested may simply be out of the question considering the general standards for resident physician hours that have been in place for decades.

Until now, that is.

While images of exhausted residents and sleep-deprived physicians are common on Grey's Anatomy, it seems that the medical profession has finally acknowledged that lack of sleep increases the chance for error. The result is the implementation of new standards that force residents to take some rest breaks.

Now, first-year residents can only work a maximum of one 16-hour shift before they need to take an 8-hour break, according to WebMD. Second and third-year residents can work 28 hour shifts, but cannot take on new patients after the 24-hour mark.

This might still sound like residents will be sleep-deprived and ripe to make errors, but in reality these new standards impose much tougher restrictions on residents' work hours. In the past, residents could work 30 hours in a row without any time off, according to WebMD.

It seems that malpractice suits might even decrease as a result of these new findings. According to studies, interns make 35.9% more errors when they treated patients under the former work guidelines.

More well-rested doctors may mean fewer mistakes that can result in injury, or death. Malpractice suits can arise when someone is misdiagnosed, or if some other harm occurs as a result of a doctor or medical professional deviates from the generally accepted standards of practice.

Sleep-deprived doctors might mean more errors in diagnosing and treatment. Though, the new regulations on resident physician doctors may not entirely fix the problem. There are multiple problems with today's healthcare system, including training and coordination between doctors and hospitals nationwide, as one New York Times writer pointed out.

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