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Surgeon fatigue increases risk of surgical error

A new study of surgeon fatigue gives Miami, Florida, residents' reason to worry before going under the knife. According to the study, surgical residents, on average, were functioning at only 80 percent of their mental capacity half of the time they were on the job. The resident surgeons functioned at less than 70 percent of their mental capacity 30 percent of the time. The reason for this fatigue, according to the study, is long hours, including working overnights, with little sleep.

Surgeons who operate while fatigued create a greater risk of surgical error. A lack of mental attentiveness can lead to operations occurring on wrong limbs, organs getting inadvertently nicked and foreign objects being left inside the body after surgery.

These types of medical malpractice instances are easily avoidable. Doctors must make sure that they are fully rested and alert before operating on someone who has placed their trust in them.

Though reduced hours and more sleep can reduce the risk of surgeon error, the study reports this problem has been around for some time. This fact suggests the simple solution has not been implemented, and this problem will continue into the future.

So, what can be done to keep doctors on their toes? Since this problem has continued throughout the years, it does not seem likely that hospitals are going to take any steps to reduce the risk of surgical error through fatigue. It is patients themselves, then, who must bear the burden of making sure doctors, are alert before a procedure. Simply asking a surgeon if she feels rested may suffice, but a malpractice suit may act as a better deterrent.

A lawsuit not only helps victims injured by negligent doctors recover compensation for medical expenses, lost wages and pain and suffering, but it can also put surgeons on notice that patients expect competent care and that anything less will result in severe consequences to the surgeon's and hospital's reputations. Maybe the knowledge of a potential lawsuit will keep a sleepy surgeon out of the operating room, and protect the health of an unknowing, innocent patient.

Source: The Huffington Post, "Sleepy Surgeons: New Study Shines Light On Risks of Surgeon Fatigue," Catherine Pearson, May 21, 2012

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