2 Interesting Facts about Fatigue and Safety in Healthcare

By Clinton Marquardt - Sleep & Fatigue Specialist

September 2, 2014

doctor fatigue, healthcare fatigue, nurse fatigue, nursing

This summer I was lucky enough to be invited to speak at Queen’s University.  I spoke to the incoming graduate students in the Master of Science in Healthcare Quality Program. They were interested in the relationship between safety in healthcare and human fatigue.  Here are 2 facts I shared with them as part of my presentation.

According to an article in the The Joint Commission Journal on Quality and Patient Safety, nurses who work extended shifts longer than 12.5 hours are at greater risk of becoming injured on the job, of making a medical error and of being less able to pay attention than nurses who work shorter shifts[1].

Fatigue doesn’t just affect nurses working extended shifts.  Physicians in training make more errors and get injured more when they work extended shifts.  When their hours on duty jump from 16 to 24, they are at a higher risk of occupational sharps injuries, serious medical errors and car accidents on the drive home. When you compare the physicians working 24 hours to the group working 16 hours, longer hours doubles their attentional failures (an indicator of decreased vigilance) and they make 36% greater serious medical errors[1].

Thanks to Dr. Kim Sears and Dr. David Goldstein for inviting me to speak to your students. For more information about their unique program that is advancing the quality of the healthcare delivery system, visit their Web site: https://healthsci.queensu.ca/hqprograms/home .


[1]  Lockley, S., Barger, L., Ayas, N., Rothschild, J., Czeisler, C., & Landrigan, C., (2007).  Harvard Work Hours, Health and Safety Group: Effects of health care provider work hours and sleep deprivation on safety and performance.  Joint Commission Journal on Quality and Patient Safety, 33 (suppl.), 7-18.

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