Researchers studying the connection between sleep and attending physicians' performance could not find that their work hours were associated with a significant increase in complication rates. Daytime surgical and obstetrics procedures performed in one academic medical center had similar rates of complications, whether or not they were done the day after an attending physician had worked overnight, according to the study. However, there was an increased rate of complications among surgical procedures performed by doctors who had less than six hours to sleep between day and night shifts. Researchers studied procedures performed from January 1999 through June 2008. The study compares 919 surgical and 957 obstetrical cases done by doctors who had worked overnight with 3,552 surgical and 3,945 obstetrical cases those same physicians performed without having worked the night before. Results will be published in the Oct. 14 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association. While resident physicians' fatigue and work hours have been under scrutiny, less attention has been paid to attending doctors and the possible effect of sleep deprivation on their work, the researchers said in their study. They suggest that while healthcare providers can do more to monitor fatigue levels, restricting the work hours of attending physicians might “lead to disruptions in care continuity or delays.”
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