Attempt to shorten shifts for doctors causing unintended consequences

The gruelling, sleepless hours that students endure during residency, the century-old tradition that transforms trainees into doctors, has long been blamed for unnecessary medical errors.

But it’s not lack of sleep alone that can lead to errors. Emerging research is pointing to patient handover – the critical process in which a doctor passes on information about a patient’s treatment to the incoming doctor – as another time when mistakes are likely to be made. It’s a discovery hospitals are only beginning to address. And attempts to shorten shifts have had unintended consequences, leading to residents working a greater number of shifts with less time to catch up on sleep – and increasing the number of handovers, says a report published Tuesday in the Canadian Medical Association Journal.

Lee Marshall Reports

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