How Doctor Fatigue Can Result in Malpractice

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You expect your doctor to treat you with care and respect. You expect him or her to have the proper education, experience, and training to perform services according to industry standards. What you may not expect from your doctor is fatigue. Yet up to 75% of healthcare shift workers experience fatigue and sleepiness on the job. Long hours, night shifts, and lack of adequate rest breaks can lead to fatigued doctors. Fatigued doctors can lead to medical malpractice and patient injuries or deaths.

Your Rights as a Patient

In Florida, medical malpractice victims and their families may file lawsuits against the at-fault physician, nurse, hospital, or other defendant. A medical malpractice lawsuit could result in payment for the victim’s related medical bills, past and future pain and suffering, lost income, and wrongful death damages. You may have grounds for a medical malpractice claim in Florida if the defendant owed you a duty of care, breached this duty, and caused your injuries.

Proving a fatigued doctor claim may take gathering evidence such as your medical records, eyewitness statements, and testimony from an expert witness, such as a physician with similar work experience as the defendant. Hiring a medical malpractice lawyer can put you in touch with everything you need for a strong case in Fort Lauderdale. Your lawyer may be able to secure the compensation your family needs to move forward after a tragic malpractice incident.

What Causes Physician Fatigue?

Fatigue can occur in any industry. However, the healthcare field has a greater risk of drowsy employees, for a couple of reasons. First, long and intense work hours can cause a drop in energy and an increase in feeling tired. Second, overnight or alternating shifts can force an employee to adjust to unnatural sleeping and waking hours. An unpredictable schedule, long hours during surgeries, and trying to sleep at the hospital or on call can all lead to poor sleep schedules for doctors and nurses.

Most adults need at least 7.5 hours of sleep per night to operate at proper cognitive performance. Acute or chronic sleep deprivation from long shifts at the hospital can interfere with a doctor’s performance and judgment. Fatigue is cumulative, and can have enormous impacts on mood, irritability, communication, coordination, and executive function over time. Sleep deprivation in a hospital setting can also cause burnout, which can compromise a patient’s healthcare. Unfortunately, most physicians cannot change their schedules or get more sleep.

Examples of Fatigue-Related Malpractice

Fatigue can lead to mistakes the doctor would not have made were it not for the effects of sleep deprivation. Fatigue does not affect complex and difficult tasks as much as tedious tasks. Complicated tasks that require critical reasoning can help keep a physician awake and attentive. Habitual tasks such as checking test results or prescribing medications, however, can go wrong if the physician is too sleepy to pay proper attention. A doctor could make many mistakes that ultimately put the patient’s life at risk.

  • Misdiagnosing a disease or condition
  • Prescribing the wrong medication or dosage
  • Misinterpreting lab test results
  • Mixing up patients or test results
  • Failing to communicate with the surgical team
  • Operating on the wrong patient or body part
  • Making a serious surgical error
  • Causing a major birth injury

A doctor who is suffering from fatigue or sleep deprivation may not be able to fulfill the standards of patient care the law requires. This can have adverse effects on patient health and well-being, and lead to significant patient injuries. Medical malpractice can prevent a patient from receiving the kind of health care he or she needs to survive. If you or a loved one became the victim of malpractice because of doctor fatigue, you may have the right to a claim.