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Are tired surgeons more likely to make errors in the OR?

We spend a lot of time on our New Mexico medical malpractice blog discussing the mistakes surgeons make and how they can be prevented. We have seen studies in the past that have found that doctors who are tired or distracted make more surgical errors in the operating room than doctors who are well-rested and focused. However, a new study out of Canada has found that surgeons who performed emergency gallbladder procedures after working the night before did not have a higher rate of complications than did their well-rested colleagues.

The study's authors picked gallbladder surgery because it is a fairly routine procedure. That meant that any errors or complications would have been fairly noticeable had tired doctors made more mistakes. This did not seem to be the case, however.

The study's authors were not convinced that limiting hours for senior surgeons would not necessarily be beneficial. They said that many experienced doctors know when they are tired and prone to make mistakes; physicians these days are willing to tell patients that their elective surgery will be delayed or performed by a different surgeon if they think they are not up to the task.

Additionally, limiting hours could be detrimental to small, often rural hospitals that don't have large staffs. At these smaller facilities -- many of which dot our state -- taking a doctor out of the equation could severely limit rural residents' access to timely medical care.

In any case, a patient who has been harmed by a surgical error can work with an experienced medical malpractice attorney.

Source: Health Day, "Tired Surgeons May Not Be Error-Prone," Amy Norton, Nov. 5, 2013

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