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Sleep deprived doctors make more mistakes

When a medical emergency presents, a doctor must quickly take action. What happens, however, if that doctor has been awake for more than 20 hours? Not surprisingly it turns out that the likelihood that a medical mistake will result increases significantly.

Contrary to a belief held by many within the medical profession and society as a whole, doctors are mere human beings and, as such, require adequate amounts of sleep. In fact according to one study, doctors who are sleep deprived are 22 percent more likely to make a medical error. Likewise, the likelihood of surgical complications greatly increases if the attending surgeon did not get six hours of sleep prior to a procedure.

Despite numerous studies warning of the dangers that can result when doctors fail to get adequate amounts of sleep, the topic remains taboo amongst those in the medical community. The idea that a truly committed doctor doesn't need sleep is promoted in medical school. By the time doctors-in-training enter residency, they are swept up into a culture in which expressing the need for sleep is viewed as a weakness.

By and large, doctors around the country and in states like Ohio are not getting enough sleep. Sleep deprivation greatly increases the likelihood that an individual will make mistakes when attempting to make decisions or complete tasks. When these decisions and tasks pertain to doctors and are associated with life and death matters, it's critical that the medical community take measures to ensure doctors are well-rested and alert.

In response to research proving the dangers of sleep deprivation, new regulations pertaining to medical residents now include limits on work hours. These regulations, however, often do not apply to doctors who practice in certain fields.

In an effort to combat the ill-effects of sleep deprivation, the medical community would be wise to adopt widespread regulations mandating doctor work hours. Likewise, changing how doctors' hours are rotated as well as expanding consultative networks to doctors in other time zones may all be effective in reducing medical errors that stem from sleep deprivation.

Source: The Huffington Post, "Doctors Are Human; They Need Sleep," Dr. Michael J. Breus, Nov. 5, 2012

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