When Doctor/Surgeon Fatigue Causes an Issue During a Medical Procedure

woman upset talking to doctor

Doctor fatigue is a documented threat to the safety and health of patients preparing for, undergoing, or recovering from a medical procedure, according to The New England Journal of Medicine. If you or a loved one suffered because a doctor’s or surgeon’s fatigue caused an issue during a medical procedure, the medical negligence lawyers at Eisenberg, Rothweiler, Winkler, Eisenberg & Jeck, P.C. are ready to help.

Our award-winning law firm has achieved multimillion-dollar awards for medical malpractice victims, including a $14 million award in a case against a hospital for failing to monitor ICU patients, an $11.2 million verdict for the misdiagnosis of an individual with a brain tumor, and $15 million for the family of a child who needed an organ transplant due to medical negligence. Our compassionate, experienced trial attorneys want to hear about your medical error case caused by doctor fatigue. Call us today for a free consultation.

How an Experienced Medical Malpractice Lawyer Can Help with Your Doctor Fatigue Case

If a medical error caused by doctor fatigue resulted in harm to you or a loved one, a medical malpractice lawyer can build a strong claim by conducting a full investigation into the evidence, including:

  • Medical Records – Comprehensive documentation establishing the patient’s medical history, treatment plans, diagnostic tests, surgical notes, and prescriptions. These records are crucial to proving the standard of care that should have applied.
  • Expert Testimony – Statements from medical professionals offering value to your case because they can explain how the treatment from sleep-deprived doctors fell below the accepted standard of care and caused harm during a procedure.
  • Human Resources Records – For cases involving resident duty hours or staff fatigue, employment records showing hours worked, shift patterns, and any overtime can be helpful.
  • Witness Statements – Testimonies from nurses, other healthcare workers, or anyone present during the treatment to provide additional insights.
  • Photographic Evidence – Images of injuries, surgical sites, or any physical evidence to help demonstrate the extent of the harm caused by the malpractice.
  • Laboratory and Diagnostic Test Results – X-rays, MRIs, blood tests, and other diagnostic results to show discrepancies in the treatment due to fatigue.
  • Incident Reports – Internal reports from the healthcare facility regarding the incident may demonstrating evidence supporting a negligence claim. These can provide insights into the facility’s awareness and response to the incident.
  • Trial Representation – An experienced trial attorney can seek a maximum award by effectively presenting your case to a jury. Our firm has successfully secured multimillion-dollar awards for numerous injured clients.

An Overview of the Problem

Physician fatigue is a serious issue in healthcare. Attending physicians and other medical professionals often have an excessive workload, necessitating long work hours with little rest. Sleep deprivation and workplace fatigue can lead to adverse events, affecting patient safety in diagnostic, surgical, therapeutic, and other medical procedures. The effects of sleep deprivation on medical negligence are well-known in the research community. One study in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) showed that:

  • Fatigue increases the likelihood of medical errors.
  • Studies in surgical and acute care settings show that long shifts and circadian rhythm disruptions heighten the risk of medical errors and increase cognitive decline.
  • Interns on extended shifts face a higher risk of making errors, injuring patients, sustaining needlestick and scalpel injuries, and even having car accidents on their way home from work.

Fatigue significantly impacts cognitive performance and overall health. For doctors, it leads to fatigue-related errors in diagnosis, treatment, and surgery, which can be life-threatening for patients. Examples of these errors include:

  • Misreading a chart or test result
  • Administering the wrong medication
  • Making a preventable surgical error
  • Experiencing difficulty making quick decisions
  • Failing to follow accepted standards of care

Factors That Contribute to Doctor Fatigue

Some of the typical factors that may contribute to doctor fatigue include:

  • Lack of Sleep – Long hours, stressful circumstances, and demanding schedules can all make it more difficult for doctors to get the sleep they need to work safely in a medical environment.
  • Demanding Residency Programs – Surgical residents and other medical professionals in training face intense, high-pressure environments that require extensive resident duty hours. The demanding nature of these programs often leaves little time for adequate rest and recovery, increasing the likelihood that sleep deprivation will negatively affect performance and lead to surgical errors.
  • Workplace Fatigue – Doctors in certain practice areas are at an increased risk of suffering from excessive fatigue, including emergency physicians, attending surgeons, and those who must work long, night, or on-call shifts. Fatigue is also prevalent after extended periods of high-intensity work, such as during emergencies or pandemics. Insufficient sleep and the emotional toll of patient care further contribute to doctor exhaustion.
  • Lengthy Procedures – Complicated cardiac or neurological procedures may take six or more hours to complete, which taxes cognitive and physical stamina. The extended focus required can lead to significant fatigue, which can cause surgical complications to arise during the procedure.
  • Substance Use – Some medical professionals might turn to stimulants to stay awake, which can further affect their health and ability to perform cognitive tasks. The use of such substances can lead to dependence and other health issues.
  • Night Rotations – Working overnight or long night shifts leads to circadian rhythm disruptions, making it difficult to rest during daylight hours. This lack of proper rest can severely impact cognitive function and overall performance. Performing nighttime procedures is also associated with an increased risk of resident fatigue.
  • Workplace Culture – Doctors and surgeons may feel pressured to continue working despite their fatigue. This cultural expectation discourages them from taking necessary breaks and addressing their fatigue, further increasing the risk of errors and serious injury.
  • Medical Issues – Certain medical conditions, such as sleep apnea, can contribute to fragmented sleep and sleep loss.

Preventing Medical Errors Caused by Doctor Fatigue

Preventing the common medical errors resulting from doctor fatigue may require a shift in public policy and the current approach to medical school, residency, and scheduling. Recognizing the potential performance impairment caused by sleep deprivation and the effects that it can have on the doctors’ professional and personal lives, the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education suggests:

  • Imposing and enforcing strict work-hour restrictions to ensure that doctors and trainees get adequate rest
  • Providing residency training to help medical professionals recognize their limits and when fatigue affects their performance
  • Offering opportunities for uninterrupted sleep
  • Judiciously using caffeine
  • Implementing physician performance measures and encouraging self-monitoring performance
  • Providing a consistent sleep routine and sufficient sleep recovery periods for medical residents

Hospitals must carefully monitor resident work hours and rest periods to help identify and address fatigue issues before they lead to medical errors.

Call an Experienced Medical Malpractice Attorney Today

Doctor fatigue puts patients at risk of severe and sometimes fatal injuries and complications. Holding medical professionals accountable for their errors can lead to better practices and a safer healthcare system for everyone. If you believe you or a loved one experienced a medical error due to doctor or surgeon fatigue, it’s important to seek legal help.

An experienced medical malpractice attorney can pursue financial security to help you cover corrective or therapeutic medical care, lost wages, and pain and suffering. Contact Eisenberg, Rothweiler, Winkler, Eisenberg & Jeck, P.C. today to discuss your medical malpractice case with a compassionate and dedicated attorney.

Eisenberg, Rothweiler, Winkler, Eisenberg, & Jeck, P.C.
1634 Spruce St, Philadelphia, PA, 19103
Phone: (215) 585-2814
Email: info@erlegal.com