Protecting patients: Shorter shifts for new doctors is a smart idea

June 28th, 2018

By Dean I Weitzman, Esq.


Imagine being at work for 24 hours or more in one stretch and having to maintain your peak performance every long hour and minute.  That’s a tough challenge.

Now imagine that your work involves patient care and life or death decisions as a medical resident in a teaching hospital, with shifts lasting 24 to 30 hours at a time.

That’s how things have been set up in teaching hospitals for years, but it’s not necessarily the best thing for patients.

June 25 stethoscope iStock 000008586203XSmall

Image credit: ©

Well-deserved changes could be coming, though, in the form of new standards from the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME), which is responsible for the accreditation of medical training programs in the U.S.

In an announcement this week, the group unveiled proposed new standards which would curtail the permissible working hours of medical residents in hospitals to increase their efficiency and better assure the safety and care of the patients they treat.

This is a great idea for healthcare patients across our nation.

It will better protect patients from medical errors made by exhausted young doctors and will mean improved oversight and care for patients.

It could also mean fewer tragic medical malpractice cases that are filed each year by the families of patients who receive care that is laced with errors caused by exhaustion and inexperience.

Those cases should never happen in the first place.

The proposed new standards include several major improvements, such as reducing the maximum work shift of a resident from 24 hours down to 16 hours in one stint.

Long hours by these young doctors-in-training have long been a hazard of their work and lead to sleep deprivation and other health issues, according to critics.

An earlier round of similar rules changes made back in 2003 that began to recognize these hazards would be improved upon with the new proposals, according to an Associated Press story this week.

“The proposal slightly revises regulations adopted seven years ago and would have the biggest impact on interns — new doctors in their first year of residency training programs in hospitals after graduating from medical school,” the AP story reported. “They would be more closely supervised by experienced doctors and the maximum length of their work shifts would be cut from 24 hours to 16 hours. Maximum work shifts would remain 24 hours for residents in their second year and beyond. Maximum work weeks would remain at 80 hours for all hospital residents. All residents and their supervisors also would be required to explain their roles to patients and explain that supervisors are ultimately in charge of their care.”

All of these proposals are excellent and will go far – if hospitals and medical facilities adhere to them – to improve patient care and reduce tragic treatment errors.

For you and your family members, these are important changes that can have meaningful impacts if you have to be treated in a hospital.

How large an impact will this have on medical residents and hospitals around the nation?

According to the ACGME,  one in every five doctors in the U.S. today is a medical resident or a fellow, which means that the impact will be noticeable.

The ACGME is accepting comments on the proposals for 45 days and will then submit a final draft for the recommended standards to its board in September, according to the group.

Hospitals say they are worried that the proposed cutbacks in hours would mean shortages of doctors and increases in costs for bringing in additional medical staff.  Some critics argue that the proposals don’t go far enough and will still lead to exhausted doctors who are more prone to making mistakes.

At MyPhillyLawyer, we feel that the proposals are yet another important step to fine tune and improve the healthcare treatment system in the U.S.

We support these changes and hope that the ACGME continues to lead the way in its role in increasing patient safety and reducing medical mistakes in the years to come.

These kinds of improvements can’t come soon enough.

Just ask a family member who has had to sue for medical malpractice after a loved one has been seriously injured or died from errant treatment by a rushed or exhausted doctor.

Those kinds of tragedies are something that no one should ever have to endure.

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