Should rookie doctors work 24 hours straight?

Tampa, Fla. -- If you, or someone close to you, has to visit a hospital in the near future pay attention.

Young doctors, often called residents, are about to get the option of going from 16-hour work shifts to 24 hours at hospitals around the country, including some of the biggest in the Bay area.

Those who favor the decision from the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education say the change will improve healthcare.

But critics are far from convinced, saying you wouldn't expect pilots to fly or truckers to drive if they hadn't slept in 24 hours.

Yet under the new rule, beginning July 1, first-year doctors will be allowed to work 24-hour shifts.

Interns doing their residency providing medical care at some of the Bay Area's biggest hospitals -- including Tampa General Hospital, James A. Haley VA Hospital and Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital in St. Petersburg.

“I think it's too long of a shift. Way, too long,” said Marcella Welch, whose grandson was undergoing surgery this week at All Children’s.

Jermaine Boyd was visiting a friend in the hospital. “You have doctors that need rest, and if they don't get the proper rest, they may not even be a help to you,” said Boyd.

In 2011, the residency shifts were capped at 16 hours.

By going to 24 hours, proponents say it will give young physicians more exposure to medical procedures and reduce the rate of handing off patients to the next doctor on duty. 

“And had they just admitted a patient an hour before their 16-hour shift, they really lost continuity,” said Dr. Carles Paidas, who oversees the University of South Florida's physician residency program.

Critics, however, including the consumer advocacy group Public Citizen, call the idea "dangerous" and "reckless."

Several studies have shown that for each 24 hours without sleep, performance declines by 25%. The ability to focus and pay attention slips. And some have concluded the effect on the brain is similar to having a blood-alcohol content level of .10. Legally drunk.

“So, if your job is to save a life, and you're tired, I just hope you feel up to it,” said Stephanie Pasernek.

“When you're dealing with eight, 10, 12 patients, mistakes can happen,” added Brad DeVoe, visiting his mother in the hospital.

Paidas says young doctors are trained to manage sleep deprivation. But those concerned, he says, should know that residents are also under the constant watch of veteran physicians.

“And with that supervision comes to decision-making about whether that person can even stay in the hospital for 24 hours,” said Paidas.

© 2017 WTSP-TV


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