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Studies on surgeon sleep deprivation have conflicting results

Two studies on the performance of sleep-deprived surgeons have done little to answer questions for patients in Ohio who are scheduled for elective surgery. A 2009 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association compared outcomes from surgeries done by surgeons who had not gotten sufficient sleep and those who had slept properly. The rate of medical errors nearly tripled for surgeries in which the surgeon had been sleep deprived. However, a newer study found no significant difference in patient outcomes between the two groups.

The 2015 study, published in The New England Journal of Medicine, placed the odds of problems arising from surgeries at 22.2 percent for patients treated by doctors who had been working between midnight and 7 a.m. on the day of the procedure. Surgeons who had not worked during those hours were associated with a 22.4 percent chance of complications. Common procedures such as hysterectomies and angioplasties were among the procedures assessed.

Critics of the newest study stated that it did not conclusively measure sleep deprivation. No data was available to show that the supposedly well-rested surgeons had actually gotten sleep. Furthermore, surgeons placed in the sleep-deprived category were not necessarily sleep deprived. For example, a surgeon who performed a surgery at 6 a.m. may have obtained adequate sleep by going to bed early the night before.

Although the conflicting results of these studies provide no conclusive answers about surgeon fatigue, medical malpractice still arises for many reasons. A person injured by a surgical error might be able to recover damages through a lawsuit. Discussing the medical evidence with an attorney who has access to a medical expert might allow an injured patient to determine if negligence could be proven. Such a lawsuit could seek compensation for medical bills and lost income.

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