BOISE and NAMPA, Idaho. It is well documented that getting less than five or six hours of sleep can impair a person’s judgment. Drivers are advised to not get behind the wheel if they have not properly slept the night before. Federal regulations require that truck drivers take regular rest breaks to ensure that they are not driving on little or no sleep. Yet, despite this, many doctors—from neurosurgeons to nurses—are forced to work long shifts that lead to sleep deprivation.

According to the Atlantic, getting only five or six hours of sleep can result in cognitive impairments that mimic drunkenness. You wouldn’t want a drunk brain surgeon working on your head, but current laws don’t prevent a sleep deprived brain surgeon from doing so. Lack of proper sleep is so serious, that the director of the AAA told drivers to avoid the road if they had not gotten at least 7 hours of sleep. If drivers shouldn’t be on the road, then surely doctors should not be operating on patients when they’ve had little to no sleep. This practice can lead to wrongful death and injuries.

According to the Atlantic, sleep deprived doctors are more likely to experience problems with memory, and have more lapses of judgment. Currently, rules for medical residents permit young doctors to work for 16 hour-long shifts. If these shift lengths aren’t bad enough, it appears that the organization that governs how long young doctors can work wants to extend the number of hours to 28.

Various studies are being performed to test the impact that longer shifts can have on residents. There are some arguments for giving residents longer shifts. According to one Forbes writer, shorter shifts may have contributed to some medical errors. Miscommunication during shift changes can lead to mistakes, problems with administration of medicine, or other errors. Yet, hospitals, nursing homes, and doctors have a responsibility to protect their patients, either by improving communication or by making sure doctors are well-rested enough to handle the challenges they may face.  Others argue that shorter shifts lead to lower-quality doctor training. In some cases, patients require around the clock care, and having a doctor see what goes into a full-day’s worth of care for a critically ill patient is beneficial.

At the end of the day, patients and their families need to be vigilant and proactive when it comes to care. Vocal patients and families can prevent medical errors, especially when it comes to prescription drug errors, some of which can be deadly. Finally, families should always speak up if they believe an error has occurred. When doctor’s errors lead to wrongful death or personal injury, these errors may not always be admitted by a hospital, nursing home, or doctor. It is often up to families to investigate and fight for their rights. In some cases, families don’t get answers about a loved one’s wrongful death or nursing home injury until they hire a personal injury lawyer to perform an investigation and pursue the case. The Law Office of Johnson & Lundgreen offer qualified and caring counsel to families who want answers. Contact us today to learn more.