Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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January 13, 2005
By: Kevin Drum

BLOCKBUSTER MEDICAL NEWS....This isn't the biggest issue in the world, but the New England Journal of Medicine has published yet another study showing that keeping medical interns awake for 30 hours straight is probably not such a good idea:

Researchers found that interns more than doubled their risk of getting into a car accident after being on call, a stint that meant working for 32 consecutive hours with only two or three hours of sleep, on average. Interns were also nearly six times as likely to report nearly having an accident on their way home.

....The researchers say those limits don't give doctors enough time to sleep. A study published last fall, also in the New England Journal, found that interns who spent every third night working in the intensive care unit made 36% more medical errors than interns who kept less onerous schedules. They also made serious diagnostic errors 5.6 times as often as their well-rested counterparts, the study found.

I've heard a litany of defenses of this practice from senior medical folks, and they couldn't sound more lame if they tried. They sound like nothing so much as a bunch of 50s frat boys defending hazing after some freshman has been found dead in an arroyo somewhere.

It's unbelievable that this system has continued as long as it has and unbelievable that it continues to be defended. Do we really need studies to tell us that people who have been awake for 30 consecutive hours probably aren't making very good decisions? And that both patients and others are suffering from this?

Would you want your mother to be looked after by a trainee who's been on her feet for 30 hours? I wouldn't.

Kevin Drum 11:44 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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