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Limiting Work Hours for Medical Residents Could Be Costly
Date:5/20/2009

And it may not lead to fewer medical errors, researchers suggest

WEDNESDAY, May 20 (HealthDay News) -- For years, legislators and patient advocates have called for less grueling hours for medical residents to reduce the chances of medical errors.

Now, new research shows that allowing doctors-in-training to work fewer hours and take longer naps during their shifts won't come cheap -- it will cost the nation's teaching hospitals an estimated $1.6 billion a year.

And there are no guarantees that shortening the shifts of medical residents will improve patient safety, according to the study in the May 21 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.

Some studies have shown that less-fatigued residents make fewer errors, while other research suggests that more frequent patient hand-offs, which would come as a result of shorter shifts, could actually mean more errors.

Doctors whose shifts have ended may have to leave patients at a critical time, and new doctors who come on duty may not be familiar with the patient, explained Dr. Kenneth Polonsky, chairman of the department of medicine at Washington University and co-author of an accompanying editorial.

"When you make physicians work shorter shifts, there is a trade-off," Polonsky said. "The care becomes discontinuous. That's what we're worried about."

The hours of medical residents are legendary. Until recently, residents often worked 120 hours a week and shifts of up to 40 hours with little more than catnaps, said study author Dr. Teryl Nuckols, an assistant professor of medicine at University of California, Los Angeles and health services researcher at the RAND Corporation.

That began to change in 2003, when the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME) established rules for the nation's 1,200-plus teaching hospitals that limited residents to an 80-hour workweek, 30-hour shifts and lightened workloads.'/>"/>

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