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Limiting doctors' hours could result in patient complications

Pennsylvania patients may not know that the American Council of Graduate Medical Education, the governing body for physicians who are in training, limits the amount of hours residents can be at the hospital. While it would make sense that reducing fatigue would reduce medical errors, it appears that the data from a 2012 study shows the opposite.

The study showed that controlling how many hours a resident could work actually resulted in more complications for patients. The complications included mistakes and errors that could have been avoided. The problem was that the work limit prevented residents and physicians from being able to care for a patient through all of the critical portions of their hospitalization as they would have to trade the patient off to different teams. Further, some neurosurgery residents could even potentially miss out on training as some procedures could take up to 10 or more hours.

The main problem with limiting the amount of hours residents could work is that the rules are not flexible based on the specialty. A neurosurgery resident may have a 14-hour day schedule that involves clinical rounding duties. However, if an emergency occurs and the resident is needed for an unscheduled surgery, they may be unable to care for their other patients or have to pass on doing the emergency surgery.

Surgical errors, whether they are due to exhaustion or a scheduling snafu, can result in a worsened medical condition requiring additional care and treatment. An attorney can examine the patient's hospital records and speak with medical experts in order to determine whether the error constituted actionable medical malpractice.

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