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How Is Sleep Deprivation Linked With Medical Errors?

Published on Apr 7, 2022 at 9:54 am in Medical Malpractice.

Tired paramedic

Getting enough sleep is essential to living a happy, healthy life. When we sleep, it allows our minds and bodies to recharge. The Sleep Foundation also reports that maintaining a healthy sleep schedule helps keep certain diseases at bay. Everything from thinking clearly and concentrating to processing memories hinges on being well-rested.

The average adult between the ages of 18 and 60 needs to get at least seven hours of sleep every night, although more is sometimes necessary to feel fully rested. Adults aged 61 to 64 ideally need anywhere from seven to nine hours a night.

Unfortunately, many people in West Virginia—including doctors—do not get adequate sleep for their age group. At DiPiero Simmons McGinley & Bastress, PLLC, our Charleston medical malpractice lawyers have seen firsthand how sleep deprivation is linked with medical errors.

What Are Medical Errors?

A medical error is defined as “a preventable adverse effect of medical care.” Medical errors are one of the most common causes of accidental deaths, which means that you might be putting your life on the line every time you seek medical care. Common examples of medical errors include:

  • Misinterpreting symptoms or test results
  • Missing a diagnosis
  • Misdiagnosing a disease
  • Operating on the wrong body part
  • Prescribing the incorrect medication or dosage

Doctors owe a duty of care to their patients. This means that doctors and all other medical professionals must provide care that aligns with the current best standards.

If you’re worried that your doctor violated this duty of care, a Charleston medical malpractice lawyer can help. Your attorney’s goal will be to determine what another reasonable and competent doctor would have done in the same circumstances. This is a key component of proving liability in a medical malpractice claim.

Doctors Are Chronically Sleep Deprived

Most doctors do not get enough sleep. This means that they regularly get fewer than the recommended minimum of seven to nine hours a night. As we’ve already discussed, getting sufficient sleep on a regular basis is an important component of being able to concentrate and think clearly. When you’re chronically sleep deprived, you’re not able to make good decisions.

According to the American College of Chest Physicians Sleep Institute—ACCP-SI—many doctors believe that their work schedules simply do not allow them to get enough sleep. Aspects of working in health care that seem to make it harder to get an adequate amount of sleep include:

  • Being on call
  • Long shifts
  • Constantly changing work schedules

It probably comes as no surprise that doctors self-report higher caffeine consumption than the general population. When you are unable to get enough sleep because of your job and its schedule, you might have no other choice but to rely on stimulants like the caffeine found in coffee, tea, and energy drinks to get you through the day.

Out of all health care providers, residents may have the most trouble getting enough sleep. Residency is the post-graduate training for new physicians, and post-grads might be referred to as interns, residents, or fellows depending on how long they’ve been in residency and their area of study. The average residency lasts for three years, during which time they often work as many as 80 hours per week. The typical full-time job in West Virginia is only 40 hours a week. During residency, residents, interns, and fellows:

  • Work shifts that are as long as 24 hours
  • Are only required to take eight hours off between shifts
  • May only have one day off a week
  • Are encouraged to engage in strategic napping

Strategic napping is when residents slip in small naps at work during their shifts. This is more common during night shifts than during the day. While strategic napping might help residents feel better in the short term, many still display signs of insufficient sleep that reduce competency and create a safety risk for patients.

The Link Between Sleep Deprivation and Medical Errors

There is no denying the link between sleep deprivation and medical errors. Even moderate sleep deprivation—getting only about 5 hours a night—is associated with a 53% increase in medical errors. Less sleep than that is associated more closely with a 96% increase in medical errors.

Studies show that sleep-deprived doctors display noticeable deficiencies in:

  • Concentration
  • Functional cognition
  • Visual and working memory
  • Dexterity
  • Handling complex tasks
  • Vigilance
  • Decision-making
  • Performing cost-benefit analysis

Doctors who regularly sleep five or fewer hours a night are also more likely to engage in risk-taking behavior when treating patients, and are also more likely to report feelings of burnout. Burnout among health care professionals is also strongly linked to medical errors and adverse health outcomes for patients.

Proving Liability for Medical Errors

There is an easy solution to medical errors caused by insufficient sleep—doctors must start prioritizing sleep. Unfortunately, there may be doctors who are unwilling to sacrifice socializing or personal time in order to create and maintain a healthy sleep schedule. Since there is no question about the link between sleep deprivation and medical errors, doctors may be acting negligently when they go into work on too little sleep.

At DiPiero Simmons McGinley & Bastress, PLLC, we understand just how devastating life after a medical error can be. The professional you trusted to support your health violated their duty of care, and now you are left with the aftermath. Your original health problems may have even been exacerbated by improper treatment or a misdiagnosis. The road to the fullest possible recovery probably looks a lot different than it did in the past.

Our compassionate Charleston medical malpractice lawyers are prepared to help support you on your road to recovery. With years of knowledge and experience, we can guide you through filing a medical malpractice claim, collecting evidence that proves liability for your injuries, and correctly valuing the worth of your claim.

Do not hesitate to take action. West Virginia has a strict two-year statute of limitations for medical malpractice claims, so contact us for your free case evaluation today.

The information on this website is for general information purposes only. Nothing on this site should be taken as legal advice. Viewing does not constitute an attorney-client relationship. Prior case results do not guarantee a similar outcome.
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