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Tired Medical Professionals Put Patients at Risk

Investigators say the work and duty hours for medical professionals are extremely long, sometimes leaving them too tired to perform at their best.

In this week's issue of The New England Journal of Medicine, Drs. David Gaba and Steven Howard of the from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) say published reports show fatigue affects concentration and motor skills similarly to alcohol, and the danger is too risky to ignore.

The authors included working shorter shifts, and limiting high-intensity work to normal daylight hours among the changes they suggest in their policy analysis. Such changes might promote harmony with the body's natural sleep cycle, and improve patient safety.

"We need to come to grips with this issue, not only for clinicians in training, but for experienced doctors and nurses as well," said Gaba, who directs VA's Patient Safety Center of Inquiry in Palo Alto.

Very few cost analysis studies of reduced resident work hours were available to the research team. One study, published in 1994, noted expense between $1.4 and $1.8 billion per year nationwide. "There's no way you can respond to the issue of fatigued clinicians without causing major changes in the organizational structure of the way work gets done," Gaba said. "And some of these changes are going to cost a lot of money.", Source: Department of Veterans Affairs


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