Study Suggests Sleepy Surgeons Put Patients at Risk

The experience of going through surgery is scary enough, but a new study suggests that the surgeon holding the knife may be prone to making serious surgical errors, because he or she did not get enough sleep.

The study was conducted between 2010 and 2011 among orthopedic surgical residents in two Boston hospitals. It found that the residents were only getting an average of five and a half hours of sleep per night. This lack of sleep left the residents so impaired that during a quarter of the hours that they were awake, they were as impaired as a person with a .08 blood alcohol level.

For the study, each resident kept sleep and work logs for two weeks and wore a special wristwatch that recorded their movements in order to gauge their levels of activity.

The study found that the type of shift that the resident worked affected the amount of sleep and level of mental effectiveness for each resident. The study found that residents on the night shift fared the worst. Night-shift residents slept an average of 5.1 hours a day and functioned at or below 70 percent of their normal mental effectiveness for almost a third of their time awake.

Day shift residents fared slightly better. They slept 5.7 hours per day, on average, and functioned at or below 70 percent of their normal mental effectiveness for only 17 percent of the time.

Given the reduced mental capacity, it was calculated that, on average, the fatigued residents were 22 percent more likely to make a surgical error than other doctors who are well rested.

To combat the problem, the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education, the body that regulates medical training, capped the amount of time first-year residents can work at 16 hours per shift. However, the cap does not apply to residents who are not in their first year; they can work up to 28 hours per shift.

Source: Fox News, “Tired surgical residents may up error risk, study suggests,” May 22, 2012