How does sleep deprivation among doctors contribute to medical errors?

Sleep deprivation from long shifts may cause effects, which could lead to health care professionals making potentially serious or deadly errors.

When people in Rhode Island go in for medical treatment, they generally expect their health care professionals to provide a certain standard of care. Unfortunately, however, doctor mistakes sometimes occur and may result in serious injuries or death for patients. In fact, research estimates 251,000 people die as a result of medical errors annually, The Washington Post reports. Such mistakes may be caused by any number of factors, including fatigue.

Doctors and other medical providers are not typically the first to come to mind when people think about shift workers. Though, many health care professionals work long hours and may go extended periods without having a day off. For example, the American Nurse Today journal reports that 12-hour shifts are how 75 percent of nurses who work in the hospital setting are scheduled. The hours they keep may contribute to some medical providers not getting adequate sleep. While it may seem harmless, the effects of sleep deprivation could have serious ramifications for health care providers and their patients.

How does sleep deprivation affect the body?


Sleep deprivation may occur when people go without sleep or chronically do not get enough rest, and it may have a range of effects on the body. Some of the most common of these include the following:

  • Decreased alertness or concentration
  • Diminished ability to integrate information
  • Weakened memory
  • Difficulty focusing and retaining information
  • Delayed reaction time
  • Impaired judgment

Additionally, lack of sleep may also affect medical professionals' ability to handle stress or alter their moods, potentially causing anger or irritability. Especially for health care providers who perform tense medical procedures or those that require attention to detail, the effects of sleep deprivation may cause them to miss important steps or signs of distress. Further, it could impede their ability to think and act quickly to address emergency situations.

Effects of medical errors on patients

Medical mistakes may affect patients in a variety of ways depending on several factors. These may include the type of error that occurred, the patient's overall health before the mistake, and when the error was caught and addressed. In some cases, people may not experience any effects at all, or may suffer only minor discomfort, such as a rash or nausea. In other situations, however, patients may develop serious infections or other conditions, suffer paralysis, develop organ damage or failure, or experience other severe effects.

When patients in Rhode Island and elsewhere suffer ill effects due to doctor errors, they may require extended medical care. This may carry undue expenses, as well as lost income if they must take extra time off work to recover. In certain situations, however, the at-fault medical professional may be held responsible. Thus, people who have suffered harm as a result of this type of medical negligence may find it helpful to seek legal counsel. An attorney may explain their options for pursuing compensation and help them determine how best to proceed given their circumstances.