Medical Mistakes in Tennessee: Resident Hours in Focus

Medical residents in the United States get an important real-world education at hospitals while also providing life-saving care for patients. For decades, it was considered a right-of-passage for these residents to put in really long hours, sometimes working for more than 24 hours straight.Fortunately, over the past decade, concerns were raised about the number of hours residents worked. Changes were made in response to these concerns, but that created a whole new set of problems.

Our Johnson City, TN medical malpractice lawyers know that around 200,000 people die each year in the United States as a result of medical errors. Fatigue of physicians and physicians-in-training as well as problems with scheduling for medical residents are contributing factors that likely account for a substantial number of deaths.

Problems With Medical Residency Scheduling

Despite the long-standing tradition of medical residents working for endless hours, the New York Times reports that changes over the past decade have limited the amount of time that medical residents can work. The Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education was the organization leading the charge on change, with its decisions driving the industry since all medical residents must be part of an accredited residency program.

The Council made a number of changes over time, gradually tightening the number of hours permitted. As of 2011, for example, the youngest medical residents were prohibited from working for any longer than 16 hours in a day. Any residency programs that violate the 16-hour maximum work time are at risk of losing their accreditation, which would essentially mean losing the residents that work in the program.

At first glance, it seems to make sense that a doctor providing medical care–especially a new doctor–should not be working for more than 16 hours. However, there are a lot of problems with this limitation such as:

  • Too few interns available to care for patients. The same number of patients have to be seen and each residency program takes the same number of doctors as in the past, despite the reduction in hours. This leads to situations with one intern doing the work of as many as 12 interns. These overworked interns often have to deal with as many as 100 patients per night, coping with questions about those 100 patients every 11 to 20 minutes throughout the night.
  • Overworked interns. A tired medical resident is not the only resident that is dangerous. An intern that is overworked and stressed is also likely to make mistakes in patient care. The problem of overworked interns is also being exacerbated by the fact that insurance limitations on hospital stays generally result in only the sickest patients being in hospitals.
  • Lost information. When an intern goes off shift and a new medical resident comes on, information about the patient that the first resident knows may be lost.
  • Undereducated interns. Interns with less time performing medical work aren’t educated as well in their fields. Further, some medical residents are also forced to spend less time on lectures or conferences because attending or observing would push them over the 16-hour limit.

These are just a few of the downsides to the new limits. If the limited hours were actually effective at reducing fatigue, coping with the downsides might be worthwhile. However, the New York Times indicates that no significant improvement has been shown in patient care and that there is no indication that medical interns are better rested, happier or devoting more time to studying due to their reduced hours. This has led the accreditation council to indicate that it will be reviewing studies on the effectiveness of its time-limit policies.

If you are injured due to medical negligence in Johnson City, Tennessee, contact Meade Injury Law Group today at(423) 464-7779​for a free consultation.