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Study Says Shorter Work Hours for Doctors is OK for Hospitalized Patients

American doctors used to work as many as 120 hours a week during their hospital training, or residency.

But now, new doctors are limited to a shorter, 80-hour workweek. The original schedule was designed partly to ensure that one doctor cared for individual patients over a long period of time. But until now, no one knew if this new system was actually better for the patient. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.

After finishing medical school in the United States, doctors work in hospitals under the supervision of experienced physicians. These new doctors are commonly called residents.

Their long work hours were cut back after a study proved that lack of sleep increased medical errors.

But no one knew if constantly transferring patients from one doctor to another because of shorter work days would be bad for the patient.

Dr. Jeffrey Silber co-authored a study on the issue. He says things are working just fine. "What we found was that there was no catastrophe, there was not an increased number of deaths."

Some people thought more patients might die because there would be less consistency in their care and some vital information might not get passed along. But again, Dr. Silber says that did not happen. "What the results tell me is that the healthcare system is flexible, that it absorbed a shock to the system which was the change in staffing that occurred with a change in the rules, and yet, there wasn't any change in mortality. We didn't see any detrimental effects."

One resident, Dr. Meredith Pugh, says it really comes down to one thing. "The goal should be to continue to decrease the amount of fatigue and to provide safe options so we can continue to take good care of our patients."

The authors of the study say they still need to find out how many hours residents can work and still stay mentally alert and also how to reduce any risk to patients that might come with the turnover in the medical staff. The study was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Video courtesy of The Journal of The American Medical Association