Do doctors' long, crazy hours affect patient care?

Do doctors' long, crazy hours affect patient care?

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by MICHELLE BOUDIN / NBC Charlotte

Bio | Email | Follow: @MichelleBoudin

WCNC.com

Posted on April 1, 2013 at 5:28 PM

Updated Monday, Apr 1 at 6:41 PM

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Working an overnight shift can take a toll on anyone. But how concerned do you need to be when you're doctor is the one working the crazy hours?

A Charlotte doctor is studying just that.

Dr. Ryan Christensen, a resident at CMC, is also the busy dad to two little ones. So things at home are as hectic as coming to work in the ER.

“Things can move very, very quickly. You kind of have to think a little bit fast,” he said.

Working the overnight shift can get especially tiring.

“I think prolonged night shifts, as well as shifting schedules can take a toll on the body; it’s sometimes harder to get in sync or get in rhythm,” he explained.

Dr. Jo Anna Leuck wants to know exactly how much residents may be out of sync, and the assistant professor of emergency management at CMC has spent two years studying the issue.

“If you look at literature, other industries, it’s really clear fatigue can play a role in physician error,” she said.

Leuck said what sets her study of ER docs apart from others is at the end of their shifts, she brings them to a lab where actors and high tech mannequins help make things as real as possible.

“So no patients are at risk, but they're essentially performing patient care. Whereas other studies in the past they would self report their mistakes, or they'd have them do driving simulators or cognitive tasks, but not actually patient care, so that’s what makes this different,” she explained.

The goal:  making sure Ryan's patients and others are getting the best care possible.

The hospital started collecting data in January and expects to wrap up this summer.

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