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What is a cause of medical mistakes harming U.S. patients?

When residents in Montana and elsewhere fall ill or become injured, it is likely he or she will rely on a medical professional to diagnose and treat them. While a multitude of patients are properly and safely treated every year, some patients unfortunately suffer harms due to medical errors. While negligence is the underlying culprit for many of these incidents, many still question what is a likely cause of the preventable errors harming patients across the nation each and every year.

What is a cause of medical mistakes harming U.S. patients? According to recent statistics, more than 250,000 patients in the U.S. die each year because of medical errors. These numbers do not account for those suffering harms such as having the wrong limb amputated, the wrong organ removed or suffering a serious side effect or disability due to a medication error.

With regards to those fatally harmed by medical mistakes and those managing to survive a medical error, how many of these situation are attributed to the fact that medical residents are often working 120 hour weeks, which include back-to-back 15-hour shifts that allow for only just 5 hours of sleep between them?

Back in 2009, it was permissible for residents to work 30-hour shifts without any sleep breaks. This was deemed unsafe, and at the request of congress, this was changed. In 2010, the new standard was a maximum of 16-hours for a single shift or two back-to-back shifts that total to 30 hours, which included a minimum 5-hour sleep period. However, only six years later, the maximum shift length was increased to 28 hours.

This practice carries with it major risks, and one study found that sleep deprivation causes a negative impact on mood, cognitive performance and motor function, which are all crucial for residents treating patients.

If a fatigued doctor or resident is the cause of a medical mistake, it is possible to take action to hold the negligent medical professional accountable. An injured patient could file a medical malpractice claim, helping them also recover compensation to cover losses and damages arising from the situation.

Source:, "Many medical mistakes traced to exhaustion from doctors' 120 hour work week," David Gutierrez, Jan. 24, 2017

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