Healthcare Executive published a recent article in their Sept/Oct 2015 edition bringing attention to an issue that is often overlooked.  A report conducted by HealthLeaders Media in 2013 brought to light the fact that over 25% of nurses surveyed make errors during their jobs due to fatigue.  However, that percentage may be higher because it is likely many medical staff are unaware their fatigue levels actually affect their decision-making processes.

Growing evidence has shown that physicians and nurses who are highly fatigued are more likely to make clinical mistakes and jeopardize others regardless of their qualification status.  A study conducted by the Harvard Group in 2007 showed a correlation between long work hours and increased risk of motor vehicle crashes.

Although teaching hospitals were required to put their staff on an 80-hour week maximum, it does not appear that any policy exists to oversee that this mandate is being followed.  The American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine has reported the risk of employee fatigue is due to the duration and timing of sleep, as well as varying work shift schedules.  Having inadequate sleep leads to adverse medical outcomes and higher injury rates.

A 2014 survey conducted by the American Organization of Nurse Executives showed that 56% of respondents said their hospitals disregard required rest periods.  Also, 65% of those surveyed said their hospitals do not even have policies in place regarding extended shift hours or maximum cumulative work days.

This is an urgent matter that needs to be addressed across the entire field of medicine for multiple reasons.  Physicians, nurses, and other medical staff all need adequate and restful sleep to function at their best – especially when the lives of others are in their hands.  Policies and restrictions should be established and followed precisely so our care providers are not performing procedures after multiple days of little or no sleep.  Scheduling firm work shift hours is also important so employees’ body clocks adapt to one regulated sleep cycle.  Not only will this reduce harm to patients in the hospital, but will also ideally decrease the number of motor vehicle crashes related to the driver being an over-worked, sleep-deprived physician or nurse.  By establishing a monitored and balanced system to decrease fatigue among medical staff, many people’s lives will be saved – both in and out of the hospital setting.