Patient Care

Resident Fatigue and Distress Contribute to Perceived Medical Errors


Clinical question: Do resident fatigue and distress contribute to medical errors?

Background: In recent years, such measures as work-hour limitations have been implemented to decrease resident fatigue and, it is presumed, medical errors. However, few studies address the relationship between residents’ well-being and self-reported medical errors.

Study design: Prospective six-year longitudinal cohort study.

Setting: Single academic medical center.

Synopsis: The authors had 380 internal-medicine residents complete quarterly surveys to assess fatigue, quality of life, burnout, symptoms of depression, and frequency of perceived medical errors. In a univariate analysis, fatigue/sleepiness, burnout, depression, and overall quality of life measures correlated significantly with self-reported major medical errors. Fatigue/sleepiness and measures of distress additively increased the risk of self-reported errors. Increases in one or both domains were estimated to increase the risk of self-reported errors by as much as 15% to 28%.

The authors studied only self-reported medical errors. It is difficult to know whether these errors directly affected patient outcomes. Additionally, results of this single-site study might not be able to be generalized.

Bottom line: Fatigue and distress contribute to self-perceived medical errors among residents.

Citation: West CP, Tan AD, Habermann TM, Sloan JA, Shanafelt TD. Association of resident fatigue and distress with perceived medical errors. JAMA. 2009;302(12):1294-1300.

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