Home E-Weekly September 1, 2015

Sleep Loss Does Not Impact Surgical Performance

Published: August 31, 2015

If your docs are working late hours before a full caseload, don't worry — a new study has found that sleep loss doesn't impact a surgeon's performance.

The study, published in The New England Journal of Medicine, looked at the outcomes of patients who underwent daytime surgeries performed by doctors who had worked late the night before. They found these patients were no more likely to experience an adverse event than those who received treatment from well-rested surgeons.

Canadian researchers studied nearly 40,000 patients undergoing 12 types of surgeries, including gallbladder removal and hysterectomy. The authors paired patients undergoing the same procedures, one with a surgeon after he'd worked a late-night shift, the other with the same surgeon after spending at least 7 hours away from treating patients.

In total, the study reviewed the work of more than 1,400 physicians. It found that the risk of death, hospital readmission and complications following surgery was no more likely among surgeons who'd worked past midnight the night before their operations. While these results are reassuring, the study's authors warn that surgeons shouldn't expect to work all day and night. Instead, they say, the findings reflect doctors' ability to minimize sleep deprivation's effects on their work.

"I believe what we are seeing in our study reflects self-regulation — that surgeons plan around their schedules based on their individual ability to tolerate sleep deprivation," said senior study author Dr. Nancy Baxter, surgery division chief at St. Michael's Hospital in Toronto. "Given our findings, they seem to be doing a good job of it."

Kendal Gapinski

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