E.R. Doctors Need Sleep–Stat!
Having watched almost every episode of E.R., I have long thought that the American system of training physicians by assigning them grueling shifts that keep them awake and peforming complicated procedures for 36 hours at a time was horrendously stupid. Research just published in the New England Journal of Medicine corroborates my armchair analysis:
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 report is the latest in a series of studies by researchers at Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston that aim to quantify the dangers of requiring doctors to work long shifts with little rest. The researchers say that working for more than 24 hours causes interns to make serious medical errors and poses a public safety hazard.
Not only is performing medical procedures while half asleep dangerous for the patient, but one would think that learning would be reduced markedly in such a state as well.
Kevin Drum notes that,
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.
Yep. It’s amazing how many stupid practices continue simply because they’ve “always been done that way” and changing things now would “lower the standards.”
(Editor’s note: Apparently, “arroyo” is California-speak for “gully” or “creek.”)