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Fatigue and Doctors Don’t Mix

You’ve probably heard the horror stories from medical residents, if not seen it dramatized on television. Thirty-six-hour night shifts on top of emergency surgeries don’t always turn out well for patients. Even doctors who are not performing surgery and simply making their rounds can make potentially fatal mistakes due to fatigue, for example, ordering the wrong dosage of medication or not seeing an allergy to penicillin listed on the patient’s chart. So if you or a loved one are admitted to the hospital, how can you recognize signs of fatigue, and if you believe that fatigue contributed to potential medical malpractice, what are your options for compensation?

Rules and Regulations for Physicians

According to the United States Department of Health and Human Services, long and unpredictable shifts have been the norm during medical training since the advent of modern practice. It even reports that the term “resident” was actually derived from the fact that doctors in training used to actually live at the hospital. Presently, the following regulations apply to medical residents:

  • Cannot work more than 80 hours per week;
  • Cannot work more than a 24hour shift;
  • Cannot be on call more than every third night;
  • Must have one day off per week.

There are some limited exceptions for surgical residents and first-year students, who require additional oversight; however, it should be noted that these regulations only apply to residents and not full fledged attending physicians. Accordingly, it is reported that attending physicians and surgeons typically work beyond the residency regulations, which means, as a patient, your physician may have worked over a 100 hour week and over a 24-hour shift when you are seen.

Recognizing Signs of Doctor Fatigue

Doctors often appear fatigued, and fatigue is not always physical, it is mental as well. The reason many of these residential regulations were implemented was that residents working a 36-hour shift ended up killing a young girl in New York due to a prescription medication error that could have been avoided. There is a difference, however, between fatigue and exhaustion, and it is important to recognize such differences as a patient. They include the following:

  • Dry lips and scaly skin;
  • Disorientation;
  • Curtness; and/or
  • Unhealthy eating habits.

What may come across as simply poor bedside manner may actually be the result of extreme exhaustion, and you should not be afraid to ask questions or look for further signs of fatigue in your doctor.

Be a Diligent Advocate for Your Health

Whether you are aware of the problem with doctor fatigue or notice certain symptoms of such, it is important that you advocate for your own health and are willing to ask questions of your caretakers. Do not be afraid to ask a doctor whether she is an attending physician or resident, and if so, what year of residency she is in. If you are concerned about residential fatigue, do not be afraid to report such to another medical staff member and ask to speak with the attending physician. You should also not be afraid to ask how long the doctor has been on duty and request that all medication orders be double checked by another staff member.

If you have a pre-existing condition or allergies, remember that doctors are still human and although failure to render treatment in accordance with your allergies or conditions is considered medical malpractice, you should still be sure to remind those treating you of these conditions, including any adverse reactions you have had to medications in the past. Although most patients do not want to be the “squeaky wheel,” especially at a busy hospital, be sure to ask questions about and be diligent regarding your treatment and care. It could save your life.

Florida Medical Malpractice Law

Sometimes the worst types of medical malpractice injuries are those that could have been prevented if a doctor had been focused and alert. If a doctor or the medical staff for which he is responsible makes such an error, then you have a claim for medical malpractice in Florida. Florida law requires you to show that the injury you suffered as a result of the error would not have been a reasonably foreseeable result of the treatment if another competent doctor had treated you in accordance with the reasonable standard of care in the field. Often, in fatigue cases – such as prescribing the wrong medication or even operating on the wrong area of a patient’s body – this is an easy standard to meet and the malpractice is generally assumed.

In other cases, however – such as when you were seen by multiple doctors and it is unclear who made the error and if someone should have corrected it – you will need the assistance of a Florida medical malpractice attorney and their team of expert witnesses and investigators in order to identify and prove malpractice.

Further, if a hospital failed to abide by required hourly regulations for residents, was not diligent in ensuring that its doctors were healthy, or an attending physician was not properly supervising the work of her residents, all these parties may be held individually liable for your injuries. A hospital will almost always be vicariously liable for the acts of its employees, but if it willfully violated medical student regulations, endangering patients in the process, you may be able to sue the hospital for its own negligent conduct, not just the acts of its employees.

Contact a Clearwater Medical Malpractice Attorney Today

Medical malpractice cases due to fatigue can be complex, and it may take a team of attorneys and experts to determine liability, the nature of your future medical expenses, and which of those expenses are compensable. If you believe that you or a loved one was injured as the result of medical malpractice due to fatigue, contact the Sibley Dolman Gipe Accident Injury Lawyers, PA today. They have the experienced attorneys you need to fight for your right to compensation for avoidable injuries in the greater Tampa Bay Area. Call them today at 727-451-6900 for a free, no-risk medical malpractice consultation.