Posted on 09/16/2021

How fatigue impacts the risk of medical malpractice

How fatigue impacts the risk of medical malpractice

Everyone gets tired now and then. But when you feel tired, chances are you can take the necessary time to rest and recover. 

But doctors often aren’t so lucky, and can wind up working in emergency rooms, on-call, and urgent care facilities for up to 24 hours without a single break. 

Long shifts and a lack of rest can cause fatigue and risks of medical malpractice among doctors and other medical professionals. It’s reported that 75% of all medical and healthcare shift-workers regularly experience sleepiness and fatigue. 

Night shifts, long hours, and insufficient rest breaks can result in doctor fatigue. Doctors who experience fatigue risk putting their patients in danger of medical malpractice.

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Decision Fatigue in Doctors

Decision fatigue describes our inability to make a good decision because of mental fatigue.

Doctors often experience increased fatigue throughout their shifts. This causes them to take the "easy route" or other shortcuts when assisting patients. This is one example of a potential medical malpractice risk caused by the doctor’s fatigue.

As a doctor's shift progresses, doctors make more and more decisions about patient well-being. They're expending a considerable amount of energy with patients and other medical professionals before they focus on your visit. 

An American Medical Association study found that doctors experiencing decision fatigue were more inclined to prescribe an unnecessary antibiotic rather than counsel the patient about why an antibiotic wouldn't be necessarily helpful. 

The same study also reported doctors tended to prescribe fewer unnecessary antibiotics early in their shift. 

This is just one instance of how fatigue increases patient risks of medical malpractice when doctors make poor choices and mistakes with patient decisions.

Doctor Decision Fatigue and Paitents

Netflix's recent apocalyptic hit, Awake, looks at the damaging effect of not sleeping. In a matter of hours, the lead character struggles to remember a phone number, and in a few days, society as they know it descends into utter chaos. It makes for a great scary movie, but it's not something you want to experience when you turn to a doctor for medical care.

When people don't have enough time to rest and restore their minds, lack of sleep can lead to symptoms, including:

  • Sleepiness
  • Headaches
  • Stress
  • Inability to focus or remember 
  • Physical weakness
  • Forgetfulness and confusion
  • Inability to follow conversations
  • Feelings of hostility, pessimism, anger, or even paranoia

When doctors experience any of these or other symptoms of fatigue, that can put patients at risk of medical malpractice. 

In addition to lack of sleep, the more decisions doctors make during the day, the more unlikely they are to weigh the options and make an informed decision. 

Everyone experiences decision fatigue now and then. Think back to the last impulse decision you made. If you’ve ever regretted making a purchase after the fact or if you ever reconsidered a choice you made, you've experienced decision fatigue

Doctors are no different, but when doctors experience fatigue, it increases the risks of medical malpractice. 

Doctor Fatigue Risks And Medical Malpractice

Doctor fatigue can lead to medical mistakes they wouldn't have regularly made if they weren't suffering from sleep deprivation. 

Complex medical procedures can often help a physician focus because of the critical reasoning required to complete the task. 

However, medical tasks, such as writing prescriptions or checking test results that are more routine, can be impacted more by fatigue, risking medical malpractice. 

Examples of the doctor fatigue risks of medical malpractice can include:

  • Wrong or late diagnosis of a patient's medical condition
  • Prescribing the wrong medication or getting the dosage for that prescription wrong
  • Failing to interpret lab test results properly
  • Getting patients or test results mixed up
  • Incorrect communication with the surgical team resulting in surgical or anesthesia errors
  • Operating on a healthy body part 
  • Radiology errors
  • Leaving something inside a patient after a surgery
  • Early or delayed discharge from hospital
  • Performing surgery on the wrong patient
  • Not obtaining a patient's informed consent prior to a surgical procedure
  • Inattention or negligence that results in a birth injury to baby or mother

A doctor suffering from sleep deprivation and fatigue will likely struggle to meet the legally required standard of patient care. That can result in patient injury or suffering, or failure to deliver on overall patient health and well-being.

In an ideal world, doctors and other medical professionals will have the opportunity to take regular food and rest breaks and work no more than 10 hours on a single shift, with plenty of time to sleep. 

What Do I Do If I've Suffered Medical Malpractice Because of Doctor Fatigue?

Have you experienced pain, suffering, or harm, including financial damages, that you believe are the result of doctor fatigue? You may have experienced medical malpractice.

At Grover Lewis Johnson, our Medical Malpractice Team has more than 25 years of medical malpractice experience and commitment to compassion. 

We genuinely care for our client's best interests, and we choose the cases we work with very carefully. This helps us ensure we can do more than just meet your expectations — we exceed them.

We'll go over your specific situation and help you decide if filing a medical malpractice claim is best for your situation. 

If you've suffered because of medical malpractice, we'd like to help you get the compensation you deserve. And you don't pay us until you receive that compensation.

Contact us today to connect with a member of our medical malpractice team and schedule a free, no-obligation consultation.

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