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If only your doctor had slept last night

Next time you visit your doctor, ask how many hours they slept last night. How much sleep they’re getting will…

By Monica Tanaka , in Insomniac , on February 2, 2009 Tags: , , , , ,

Next time you visit your doctor, ask how many hours they slept last night.

How much sleep they’re getting will affect their judgement, attention to detail, and possibly, their ability to provide a proper diagnosis.

I have enough trouble getting my things in the morning on less than six hours of sleep. I imagine it would be challenging to give advice, prescribe medication, and fulfill all the duties of a healthcare professional when one is sleep deprived.

But doctors, and residents in particular, are known to work ridiculously long shifts. They may have worked as long as 24 hours without a break before making it to your bedside.

A study by the UBC Sleep Disorder Clinic published in British Columbia Medical Journal has found that a lack of sleep could negatively affect the care one will receive from a physician. It also added that physicians that are sleep deprived are at a greater risk of being in a car crash, having hospital-related injuries and having compromised mental health.

Doctors in Canada are writing millions of prescriptions for sleep medication every year, but are they addressing their own sleep issues adequately?

Perhaps we should consider legislating the maximum hours a doctor is allowed to work. This could be one way to ensure quality of patient care and the longevity of our doctors (as we have such a shortage in Canada).

This was certainly an considered in a story on patient safety in Ergonomics Today that cited a recent British study that found that doctors made 33% fewer errors if they had more sleep.

But in a story on the same study in the BBC News, the participating doctors complained that fewer hours would have a negative impact on their learning opportunities. They also said that it decreased ‘patient continuity’, in other words, a doctor couldn’t stay long enough with one patient and this would hurt the patient’s care.

Before going under the knife, I’d sure like to have a well-rested surgeon who’s had their breakfast, and maybe even gone for a morning run. That might be possible in a privatized healthcare system. And there’s no way I’d wish that on Canadians.