Studies: Shortening Shifts of Medical Interns Causing More Errors


Two new studies find that shortening the shifts that medical interns work in U.S. hospitals may actually make patient care worse.

In 2001, the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education cut the length of work shifts for first-year resident physicians from 30 to 16 hours. The hope was that shorter shifts would allow the residents to get more rest and therefore make fewer fatigue-related errors on the job.

But one study published March 25 in the Journal of the American Medical Association reveals that the move has not caused residents to get more sleep, but has increased the number of times patients are transferred from one resident to another, which increases the risk of mistakes in care.

The shorter hours have also decreased residents' overall training time, the study found.

"The consequences of these sweeping regulations are potentially very serious," study author Sanjay Desai, director of the internal medicine residency program at the Johns Hopkins Hospital, said in a statement. "Despite the best of intentions, the reduced work hours are handcuffing training programs, and benefits to patient safety and trainee well-being have not been systematically demonstrated.”

The second study, a survey of 2,323 interns at more than 14 teaching hospitals conducted by the University of Michigan Medical School, found that residents who worked shorter hours reported making 15 percent to 20 percent more errors than did residents who worked longer shifts.

"Teaching hospitals haven't invested in providing extra help to shoulder any of the clinical work that has to be done,'' physician Elizabeth Wiley, president of the American Medical Student Association, told USA Today. "It could be the interns are required to do the same amount of work in less time."