The Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education will vote on increasing the number of consecutive hours first-year residents can work. This private organization is responsible for overseeing physician training in the United States. If this new policy goes into effect, it may have implications for patient safety in hospitals.
At the moment, first-year residents fresh out of medical school can only work 16 hours straight. If the new policy goes into effect, this cap will increase to 28 hours.
A prior study released by the Institute of Medicine shows doctors put themselves and their patients in harm’s way when they work too many hours. According a separate Harvard study, first-year residents working in intensive care units made 36 percent more medical mistakes when working for 24 hours or more. This is compared to first-year residents that worked shorter shifts. Overworked residents also fell asleep on the job, and were too tired to drive themselves home.
Despite these risks, there are proponents for allowing first-year residents to work more hours. According to proponents, hour caps are bad for patient safety because residents must leave in the middle of procedures or while caring for patients. Proponents also argue that hour caps make first-year residents less prepared to practice medicine on their own.
Can These New Policies Hurt Patient Safety in Hospitals?
It is important to consider that hospitals use residents as a source of free labor. Teaching hospitals receive funds from Medicare for each resident. These hospitals then give residents a fraction of what they receive from Medicare. There is a strong financial incentive for hospitals to boost the number of hours worked by residents. Unfortunately, it is patients that pay the price for these selfish policies.
The Tampa Bay medical malpractice attorneys at Shapiro Law Group have over three decades of experience helping victims of negligent hospital policies.