It’s sound reasoning that tired doctors lead to medical care mistakes. The same assumption can be applied to motor vehicle accidents: tired doctors face a higher risk for car crashes. Now there’s a study that bears out such a deduction.
Last year, researchers conducted a study to measure the effect of the mental health of resident physicians on their personal safety. Medical residents – doctors in training, usually in hospitals or clinics – work long hours to get valuable experience. The study included 340 residents between 2007 and 2011 while they were training at the Mayo Clinic, and the findings were published in December 2012 in “Mayo Clinic Proceedings,” a medical journal.
Researchers found that doctors who said they were experiencing some sort of “distress,” including fatigue, sleepiness, depression, and burnout, were linked to an increased chance for a motor vehicle mishap:
• 11 percent of the doctors in the study said they were in a car crash during the four-year residency period
• 43 percent reported experiencing a “close call” while driving
The residents were measured every 3 months for evidence of distress. For example, their level of sleepiness was assessed using the Epworth Sleepiness Scale, which incorporates 8 different scenarios that are scored from 0 to 3, with 0 representing no chance of daytime sleeping and 3 being the highest change of daytime sleeping. A total score of at least 10 indicates excessive daytime sleepiness.
Based on their findings, researchers concluded that every 1 point increase in the residents’ Epworth Sleepiness Scale scores led to a 10 percent increase in the likelihood of them being involved in a car accident.
The authors of the study conclude that the “results suggest that fatigue, sleepiness, burnout, depression, and reduced QOL (quality of life), are associated with an increased risk of future motor vehicle accidents. In addition to ongoing efforts to limit physician fatigue and sleepiness, interventions to promote well-being and reduce distress among physicians are needed to improve both patient and resident safety.”