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Fatigue may be a source of medical negligence

As patients, we place our trust completely in the hands of our doctors. When that trust is violated by medical negligence caused by fatigue, the result can be devastating and irreparable.

According to a study recently published in the Archives of Surgery, fatigue may be a significant cause of surgical errors in Montana and across the country. The study is one of the first to quantify resident surgeon fatigue and the accompanying risk of medical error.

The authors discovered that the surgical residents they monitored worked under fatigue nearly half the time, resulting in cognitive functioning at around 80% of full capacity. To put that in context, mental functioning while legally drunk (a blood alcohol level of 0.08%) is around 70%. As a solution, the authors recommended that scheduling be adjusted to eliminate the night shift and that hospitals begin to more closely monitor residents for fatigue during their shifts.

Yet similar safeguards, already in place, seem to be failing. For example, under the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education, residents have an 80-hour weekly limit (averaged over four weeks) and cannot work more than 24 hours at a time. In the same vein, many hospital leaders have expressed a commitment to reducing medical errors. Yet resident fatigue continues to pose a danger to patients.

According to a report from the Institute of Medicine, around 98,000 deaths a year are caused by medical errors. Another report by the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) indicates that U.S. surgeons operate on the wrong body part as often as 40 times a week.

A lawsuit may be one way to deter medical negligence and provide fair compensation to victims of surgical error. If you or a loved one has been injured and you believe the doctor was at fault, don't delay in consulting an attorney: Montana state law typically requires medical malpractice claims to be brought within a specified time after the injury. An attorney can help you prepare your best claim and obtain the compensation you deserve.

Source: Huffington Post, "Sleepy Surgeons: New Study Shines Light On Risks Of Surgeon Fatigue," Catherine Pearson, May 21, 2012

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