In New York, one orthopedic surgeon is currently facing 261 medical malpractice
lawsuits. The claims against the physician charge him with medical error
resulting from performing operations while tired and fatigued. According
to the physician’s scheduling records, he performed an average of
17 operations per day.
Currently, there are no regulations in place limiting the number of
operations that a surgeon can perform within a given day. However, surgeons who perform
multiple operations during a given day often become tired and fatigued.
Multiple studies support the finding that tired and fatigued surgeons
place patients’ lives in danger.
Studies show that surgeons who are tired and fatigued function with less
In 2011, Georgia Regents University conducted a study which explored surgeons’
attitudes towards the effect of fatigue on their performance. According
to the study, surgeons reported that fatigue affected their cognitive
capability and fine motor skills. In addition, many of the surgeons interviewed
as part of the study acknowledged that their fatigue had a large effect
on patient safety.
In 2012, the medical journal Archives of Surgery reported that fatigue
increased the risk of
medical error amongst surgical residents by 22 percent. The average hours of sleep for
the surgical residents participating in the study was 5.3 hours, ranging
between 2.8 and 7.2 hours. The surgical residents felt tired half the
time they were awake. For a quarter of the time they were awake, the surgical
residents functioned at less than 70 percent mental effectiveness, which
is the equivalent to being legally drunk.
Similarly, a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine revealed
that operations performed by surgeons who were not well rested increased
patients’ chances of complication by 83 percent.
Surgeons are not subject to regulations limiting the number of operations
they can perform in a single day.
These studies encouraged the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical
Education to establish limits on the number of consecutive hours that
first year medical residents were allowed to work. As a result of these
guidelines, medical residents cannot work more than 16 consecutive hours.
In 2011, The Joint Commission, which is responsible for inspecting and
licensing surgical centers nationwide, issued a statement alerting medical
professionals and healthcare institutions that fatigue amongst healthcare
workers compromises patient safety by increasing the risk of medical errors.
However, The Joint Commission did not go as far as to issue guidelines
regarding the number of operations that may be performed in a given day.
Another certifying organization, The American Board of Orthopedic Surgery,
has stated that limits on the number of operations performed by a surgeon
in a given day should be set by the surgical center or hospital where
the surgeon works.
If you or a loved one has been the victim of medical error and you suspect
that surgeon fatigue was at play, you should contact an attorney immediately.