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Reigning in long OR hours proves controversial

Certain professions have time-honored traditions that perhaps from the outside seem to make little sense. For instance, after receiving their MDs, interns and residents are known to work excessively long shifts, often essentially living at their training hospital and grabbing intermittent naps on some cot in a back room. However, some surgeons and other medical professionals must regularly work long shifts in operating rooms in New York, and there are some who seek to limit this practice.

As a backdrop, monitoring and limitations on the number of hours worked are found in other professions where an error could cause a fatal result, such as airplane pilots and train drivers. Doctors, however, point out that changing surgeons in the middle of a procedure is not as simple as a pilot taking the last leg of an extended flight. Among the issues are the patient’s acceptance of such an innovation, the insurer’s willingness to pay for two surgeons and the practical matter of how the switch-off will occur.

A poll of medical professionals revealed doctors were least likely to believe capping hours was necessary as compared with others in the operating room, such as nurses and advanced-practice nurses. Similarly, when asked if those in the operating room should be monitored for negative behavior that could impact performance, such as alcohol or drug abuse, surgeons were less likely to see the necessity than nurses and anesthesiologists.

Ultimately, whether hours are limited or testing is implemented, each medical professional is held to a standard of care. If a mistake is made for any reason that harms a patient, a medical malpractice lawyer may evaluate the circumstances to determine if negligence, failure to diagnose, a misdiagnosis or other doctor error might support a malpractice claim.

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