If Your Doctor is Tired, Medical Mistakes May be More Likely

Young physician with brown hair closes eyes at desk, resting her head in her hand since she is tired.

New Study Says Doctors Are More Likely to Make Errors After a Long, Tiring Day of Work 

Would you believe that many healthcare providers are more likely to make medical mistakes later in the day after numerous hours at work? According to a recent study published in JAMA Network Open and discussed in a Forbes article, “late afternoon fatigue affects many physicians.” That is the conclusion at the heart of the recent study, conducted by Northwestern University’s Dr. Jeffrey Linder, a professor of medicine. In a recent article written by Dr. Linder’s, “Don’t Visit Your Doctor In The Afternoon,” he discusses the effects of daily fatigue on health care and patient safety. 

As Dr. Linder pointed out, “doctors ordered fewer breast and colon cancer screenings for patients later in the day, compared to first thing in the morning.” How does that fact have anything to do with medical errors and patient safety? As Linder explains, “all the patients were due for screening, but ordering rates were highest for patients with appointments around 8 a.m. By the end of the afternoon, the rates were 10 percent to 15 percent lower.” Linder believes that fatigue is the reason for the discrepancy. The research suggests that “primary care physicians . . . slip up and make mistakes in the afternoon that they wouldn’t have made earlier in the morning.”

 It is not only primary care physicians who are likely to make errors later on in the day. For example, radiology errors also increase as the day progresses. One study determined that radiologists’ “diagnostic accuracy” dropped by about 4% when examining bone images and CT scans that showed fractures and nodules later in the day. Other research has suggested that radiology errors increase even more significantly in the last three hours of a radiologist’s 12-hour shift.

Reducing Medical Mistakes Caused by Fatigue

 What should doctors do to prevent medical errors that are more likely to happen later in the afternoon or evening after an all-day shift? The article recommends some of the following for physicians:

  • Take regular breaks every few hours;
  • Do your best to work shifts that are nine hours or less; and
  • Step away from the computer after analyzing several scans or test results.

In addition, patients can also help to reduce their own risk of injury due to a healthcare provider’s error later in the day. Dr. Linder recommends that patients do the following:

  • Try to get an early-morning appointment;
  • Prepare for your doctor’s appointment by learning about the screenings that may be appropriate for you; and
  • Make follow-up arrangements for screenings with your doctor.

If you or a loved one recently received medical care and suffered an injury as a result, you should learn more about your options for filing a claim for compensation. A medical malpractice attorney can speak with you about medical errors to determine your rights.

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