John Price Law Blog

Physician Fatigue Among Residents Could Lead to Medical Malpractice

Fatigue can have a severe impact on workers in every industry, although it comes with severe consequences in the medical industry. One slight error can be the difference between life or death. And when a doctor makes a mistake because of fatigue, it can lead to a sizable medical malpractice claim.

Hospital shifts are constructed by staff and administrators, although many physicians work well beyond a typical 40-hour workweek. This is pretty much common knowledge, especially when it comes to residents. These doctors have been known to work anywhere from 80 to 100 hours per week as it is known as a grueling experience. Residents are typically sleep deprived as it is considered part of the job. The combination of a lack of sleep and residents not having a wealth of experience makes for a dangerous combination.

Even in the most skilled doctor, sleep deprivation and fatigue can lead to poor decision making, delayed responses and falling cognitive functions. This could result in misdiagnosis, medication errors, surgical errors and many other forms of medical malpractice. A current law has put in place by the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education to limit residents to 80 hour-workweeks. However, that is twice the amount of work hours as most people who work a full-time job. The system is essentially a recipe for disaster.

To make matters even worse, this 80-hour cap came into existence only after a rash of patient deaths. Prior to that, residents may have been putting in even more hours during a normal week.

Residents are expected to work long hours as a learning experience. Nevertheless, the stress and fatigue of such an intense environment have the capability of leading to errors that could otherwise be avoided. Those errors have the potential to bring serious consequences to patients and in some instances, death.

In older physicians, burnout can have the same impact. Their judgment is negatively impacted when doctors are not well-rested. Studies continue to show that preventable deaths in American hospitals is at a rate considered much too high. However, medical malpractice lawsuits can be filed even when injuries are not of a catastrophic nature. Minor injuries even qualify when physician fatigue is responsible for that preventable injury.

The information presented here is not to be construed as legal advice. If you are a victim of medical malpractice in South Carolina, contact an attorney near you for assistance.