Of all the known causes of serious medical errors, could the annual act of “springing forward” be a new addition?
According to a Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine study, medical errors kill more people in the United States than all other causes except for cancer and heart disease. The research (“Medical Error—The Third Leading Cause of Death in the US”) notes that medical mistakes have replaced respiratory disease, known to kill more than 150,000 people a year.
The leading types of catastrophic medical errors include:
· Surgical errors
· Mistakes administering medications to patients
· Misdiagnosing a serious health condition
Common Causes for Serious Medical Mistakes
Just as there are many types of medical mistakes that endanger patients, numerous causes can be attributed to them:
· Improper hospital safety protocols
· Defective or unclean medical equipment
· Inattentive, fatigued or burned-out healthcare providers
A new study puts a spotlight on that last cause of preventable medical mistakes.
The study (“Increased Patient Safety-Related Incidents Following the Transition into Daylight Saving Time”), published in the August issue of the Journal of General Internal Medicine, points to the start of daylight savings time as a period of high risk for patients becoming victims of a serious medical error.
DST stars in the spring and has us moving the clock ahead one hour, creating an extra portion of daylight and leading to the expression of “springing forward” as a reminder to update our time pieces.
Less Sleep, More Medical Errors
In this new study, researchers looked for a relationship between this lost hour of sleep every spring and a jump in medical errors. And they found one.
Reviewing patient records in numerous states between 2010 and 2017, researchers identified that the number of medical mistakes caused by human error jumped significantly in the week following the start of DST every spring. Almost 19% more medical errors were made in that week over the eight-year study period.
The researchers also looked at the period following the end of DST and found no significant increase in medical errors during that fall week when we get back the hour of sleep.
The conclusion is that loss of sleep by doctors, nurses and other healthcare practitioners can be needlessly dangerous for patients. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) in early September called for the elimination of daylight savings time and avoiding the loss of sleep.
This is not the first scientific look at fatigued doctors and medical mistakes. A 2018 Stanford University study (“Physician Burnout, Well-being, and Work Unit Safety Grades in Relationship to Reported Medical Errors”) that included almost 7,000 doctors found that notably tired, burned out physicians posed double the chances for medical errors.
Knowing this, hospital patients may want to avoid treatment at the beginning of daylight savings time if they can . But it’s truly up to hospitals, doctors and nurses to take steps for preventing medical errors, be it better communication, following established protocols, or getting enough sleep.
If you or a family member were a victim of a serious medical error, contact an experienced medical malpractice lawyer to investigate and pursue your legal right to just compensation for your losses.
The choice of a lawyer is an important decision that should not be based solely on advertisements.
Authored by Gray, Ritter & Graham, P.C., posted in Blog September 11, 2020