Sleep Deprivation Causes Serious Medical Errors


Medical negligence or malpractice of the kind that results in wrongful death has been possibly linked to sleep deprivation or fatigue. For years, experts have warned about the dangers of sleep deprivation and fatigue among health care workers, and their implications for patient safety. Those warnings seem to be quite a legitimate concern.

Often healthcare workers are encouraged to continue to work even if they’re tired or fatigued. This is even though such fatigue has been shown to directly contribute to serious medical errors. In fact, according to a study published in 2006 by the National Academy Of Sciences, medical interns who were on duty for just three hours more per shift, were at risk of making 22% more critical medical errors, compared to counterparts who worked their normal hours per shift.  

The importance of rest, recuperation and rejuvenation is accepted in many other fields, but not so in the medical field. Unfortunately, medical personnel and healthcare workers are conditioned to believe that doing more in less time, and working even when they are tired or fatigued, is a sign of a good work ethic. Even when nurses get a few hours free, they are unlikely to go home and sleep. They’re more likely to run errands, spend time with their families, and study for exams, all because of the punishing schedule that they are on. That means that when they do deal with patients, they are running on very little sleep, and at risk of making errors.

Unfortunately, when it comes to the medical profession, there are no rules to limit fatigue, and restrict the number of hours that a person can work. The medical culture and the profession simply accept unbearably long hours, 24 hours without sleep and other serious anomalies as normal and part of the profession.

The Joint Commission has noted this reality. The organization published an audit in December 2011, in which it clearly mentioned that the relationship between medical worker fatigue and patient safety is well-established. The Joint Commission recommended that organizations in the United States establish work-hour limits that would restrict the number of hours that medical personnel work to reduce what it called the “unacceptably high” rate of medical errors linked to fatigue occurring across the country.

Unfortunately, not much has been done since the Joint Commission released that report nearly eight years ago. This state of affairs must change. Overworked and fatigued medical personnel are a serious and underestimated patient safety threat.

The Indiana medical malpractice lawyers at Montross Miller Muller Mendelson & Kennedy, LLP represent families of persons who have suffered wrongful death as the result of medical negligence across Indiana.