Two top members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee have asked the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality to study whether patient safety is being undermined by long work shifts by providers, especially young physicians in residency programs.
The lawmakersRep. John Dingell (D-Mich.), who chairs the committee, and Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas), the ranking memberhave asked the federal agency to fund a new study by the Institute of Medicine that would build on an earlier AHRQ-sponsored report titled Impact of Extended-Duration Shifts on Medical Errors, Adverse Events and Attentional Failures. That Web-based survey of about 2,700 residents, published in December 2006, concluded that extended-duration shifts were associated with an increased risk of significant medical errors, adverse events and attentional failures in interns across the United States.
That survey was conducted prior to July 2003, when tough new guidelines by the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education limited most interns to 80-hour workweeks and 24-hour shifts, with some exceptions. Researchers, however, note that working more than 24 hours consecutively has remained the cornerstone of American postgraduate medical education.
Dingell and Barton asked AHRQ to fund an Institute of Medicine study that would offer another close look into whether extended work hours affect patient safety.
In a news release, the lawmakers said the request is part of an investigation into preventable medical errors by the Commerce Committees Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations.
As part of this investigation, and in light of (AHRQs) mission to improve the quality, safety, efficiency and effectiveness of healthcare for all Americans, we write to request that AHRQ consider pursuing through the Institute of Medicine the continued study of medical errors associated with physician and resident work schedules, the letter said.
A spokeswoman for the committee says the study will be the first step into the investigation of patient safety and medical errors. The committee has not yet received a response from AHRQ and hasnt calculated costs for the project, she adds.
In a written statement, AHRQ said it recognizes the critical importance of the issue of the impact of work hours and fatigue on medical errors. Since 2001, AHRQ has supported a robust body of research on work hours and their impact on medical errors. We thank Chairman Dingell and his colleagues for elevating its profile. We will be working with the committee on a proposal for the most constructive way to proceed in a manner that would capitalize on the existing body of research."What do you think? Write us with your comments at [email protected]. Please include your name, title and hometown.