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Duty hour restrictions on residents negatively impact patients

Surgical residents training in New Mexico need to limit their duty hours based on regulations handed down by the American Council of Graduate Medical Education. Although educators designed these caps on working hours to reduce fatigue and medical errors, one 2012 study found that complications actually increased.

Regulators chose to limit duty hours to 80 hours within seven days during a physician's residency when specialty training occurs. Within the neurosurgeon specialty, however, the inflexible hours appear to be causing problems. When examining outcomes for neurosurgery patients, data showed that preventable negative outcomes became more prevalent. Shift changes among physicians required by regulations disrupted care during the critical 24 hours after a surgery. Handing off patient care to another physician introduces opportunities for miscommunication about a patient.

Neurosurgical training in particular requires long hours. Some surgeries can take eight hours or more. Inflexible work hours restrict training opportunities for neurosurgeons during their residency. Ethical dilemmas about providing care or going home as regulations require can also confront surgeons during their training.

If a physician fails to meet standards of care, then liability for medical errors could emerge. A person who experiences a worsened condition, delayed diagnosis or permanent disability because of a physician error might be able to collect damages through a medical malpractice lawsuit. An attorney who focuses on medical malpractice may be able to ask for testimony from an outside medical expert to build the case. An lawyer might also review the terms of an out-of-court settlement that a physician, health care company or insurance company offered the victim.

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