Study: Cutting Residents' Work Hours Harms, Not Helps, Patients

A 2011 rule limiting hospital residents' work hours resulted in more reported medical errors that harmed patients — the opposite effect the rule was designed for, according to a study in JAMA Internal Medicine.

Researchers studied the effect of a 2011 rule that capped residents' consecutive work hours at 16, compared with more than 24 hours before 2011. The goal of the reduction in consecutive work hours was to decrease the risk of fatigue-related adverse events.


A study of 2,300 physicians in their first year of residency at hospital systems across the country showed that while work hours decreased, sleep hours did not increase significantly. In addition, the percent of residents reporting that they had committed medical errors that harmed patients increased from 19.9 percent before the 2011 rule to 23.3 percent after.

While the study did not identify reasons for the increase in medical errors, the authors posited that a possible cause may be pressure for residents to complete the same amount of work in less amount of time. Furthermore, reduced hours may cause residents to hand off more patients to colleagues, which increases the risk of errors due to possible gaps in communication.

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