How Health Care Worker Fatigue Can Cause Medical Errors

Medical Errors

Medical errors happen for a variety of reasons from poor communication to unqualified health care workers to fatigue. In a 2014 national study by the Mayo Clinic, researchers concluded that physician burnout, fatigue, and work unit safety grades were independently associated with major medical errors and that interventions to reduce rates of medical errors must address both physician well-being and work unit safety. The Joint Commission Sentinel Event Alert establishes that the link between health care worker fatigue and adverse events is well documented, with a substantial number of studies indicating that the practice of extended work hours contributes to high levels of worker fatigue that compromises patient safety and can lead to an increased risk of adverse events.

Impacts of fatigue

No one feels good when they are sleep deprived. When health care providers are fatigued, it can lead to symptoms that impact their patients, including:

  •       Compromised problem solving, information processing, and judgement
  •       Diminished reaction time
  •       Impaired communication
  •       Inability to stay focused on the task
  •       Confusion
  •       Irritability
  •       Indifference and loss of empathy
  •       Memory lapses

How Health Care Worker Fatigue Can Cause Medical Errors

Numerous studies over the years have shown that shift length and work schedules have a significant impact on the quantity and quality of sleep that health care providers’ get and that shifts longer than 12 hours in length and recurrent 24 hours shifts lead to:

  •       Decreased job performance and vigilance
  •       Increased risk of errors and preventable adverse events
  •       Twice as many on-the-job attentional failures at night
  •       Five times as many serious diagnostic errors
  •       Increased rates of complications

Common medical errors caused by fatigue

The two most common medical errors caused by health worker fatigue are medication errors and procedure, treatment, or testing errors. The most common medication errors that get made as a result of healthcare worker fatigue are for the wrong dose, missing a dose, or extra dose. The most common errors related to a procedure, treatment, or test were laboratory errors, and other errors such as radiology or imaging problems and surgical invasive procedure problems.

Who is responsible for chronic health care worker fatigue?

Health experts recommend that healthcare facilities develop fatigue risk-management systems (FRMSs), which are data-driven and scientifically based fatigue-mitigation practices, in order to reduce the risks to patient safety caused by fatigued health care workers.

Healthcare facilities that break state laws around the number of hours that a healthcare worker can be required to work, may be liable for a medical error caused by worker fatigue. For example, Washington State’s RCW 49.28.140 states that: An employee accepting overtime who works more than twelve consecutive hours shall be provided the option to have at least eight consecutive hours of uninterrupted time off from work following the time worked.

If you or a loved one was injured in a health care setting due to possible negligent behavior, a medical malpractice lawyer will examine the circumstances around the injury and let you know if doctor fatigue is suspected. Should you agree to work together, they will also be able to pursue the answers and compensation that your loved one – or you as their family member – deserves by bringing a complaint against the negligent party.

The Seattle Personal Injury Lawyers You Want on Your Side

The personal injury attorneys at Tinker Law Firm have been winning birth injury, medical malpractice, and personal injury cases for individuals and their loved ones in Seattle and across Washington State since 1974. We seek justice for injury victims who have been harmed by preventable medical errors, and the negligent or abusive actions of another. Our clients pay no fees or expenses to file a personal injury claim; our firm advances out-of-pocket expenses and is only reimbursed when we recover a settlement on your behalf. Do not delay; personal injury claims in Washington State have a statute of limitations, which means they must be filed within a certain time from the date of the injury.

Call us now at 206-842-1000 or contact us online to schedule a free consultation with one of our skilled and experienced injury attorneys.