An editorial in the latest issue of the New England Journal of Medicine has said there is no conclusive evidence on whether allowing medical residents more hours of sleep reduces errors and ensures patient safety.
"Published studies on this question focusing on mortality rates or a propensity for medical errors have not reached consensus," said the editorial called "To Nap or Not to Nap."
The residents' workload has been limited to 80-hour weeks following guidelines issued in 2003 by the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education. These guidelines had been issued after many cases of patient harm were attributed to tired residents who were more error-prone.
However the NEJM editorial argues that the cost -effectiveness of reducing residents' workload would be huge and that it would not make sense to keep rotating patients under the care of different residents. "Reducing the work hours of residents leads to an increase in the number of handoffs in care, and this increase outweighs the potential benefits of reducing residents' fatigue," the editorial added.
The Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education is due to modify its guidelines next February and these factors are sure to be noted before recommending further shortening of the workload.