A new study has revealed that surgeons who spent the night working and have to operate in the morning do not make any more mistakes than surgeons who spent the night resting.
A group of researchers from the University of Toronto looked at 1.400 surgeons who operated after resting as well as after working a night shift, and at 39.000 patients who had to undergo various surgeries.
Each of the patients was paired with another patient who had to undergo the same procedure and was assigned the same surgeon. One of the two got the surgeon after he spent the nigh resting, the other got him after he worked a night shift.
The researchers surveyed each of the patients for a period of 30 days after their surgery and noticed that patients who got a surgeon after he spent the night working (the 12 am to 7 am shift) did not experience a different outcome, when compared to patients who got a surgeon after he spent the night resting.
They concluded that patients who got a surgeon after he spent the night working had a likelihood of 22.2 percent (22.2%) to develop surgery-related issues, and patients who got a surgeon after he spent the night resting had a likelihood of 22.4 percent (22.4%) to develop surgery-related issues.
What’s more, surgeons who spent the night working did not take any more time than surgeons who spent the night resting to complete a procedure – the average time in both cases was 2.6 hours.
These findings applied to both younger surgeons and older surgeons, as well as to surgeons who worked for an academic hospital and surgeons who worked for a private hospital.
Dr. Nancy Baxter, senior author on the study and surgery division chief from St. Michael’s Hospital (Toronto), gave a statement saying that “I believe what we are seeing in our study reflects self-regulation — that surgeons plan around their schedules based on their individual ability to tolerate sleep deprivation. Given our findings, they seem to be doing a good job of it”.
However, she went on to talk about a potentially dangerous scenario. She explained that if hospitals started to take away a surgeon’s ability to self-regulate the work that they have to do when they are on call after spending the night before working, “the potential to cause harm” would become very real.
Dr. Baxter explained that sleep deprivation has an effect on all of us. The main difference is that some people are good at dealing with it, while other people are bad at dealing with it poorly. The only person who is able to judge how a certain surgeon deals with sleep deprivation is the surgeon himself.
What the study underlines is that surgeons are generally really good at judging their state and ability to work, and have learned which steps to take to modifying their practice appropriately.
But if a patient is uncomfortable with a surgeon who spent the night working, they have the power to do something about it. The Sleep Research Society informs that surgeons who’ve stayed awake for the previous 22 hours leading up to an operation have to inform their patient of their sleep deprivation and get the patient’s consent to perform said operation.
The findings were published earlier this week, on August 26, 2015, in the New England Journal of Medicine.
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