A doctor training panel last week recommended that medical interns be allowed to work up to 24 hours at a time in hospitals despite concerns about a lack of sleep contributing to mistakes.
The Washington Post reports that the changes, proposed by an Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education task force, would increase the hourly shift limit for first-year doctors — interns — from the current 16 hours in an effort to align with the shifts of second- and third-year resident physicians.
The shifts could also be extended to 28 hours to facilitate transitions in care.
ACGME chief executive Thomas Nasca told the paper that interns could work the same shifts as residents until 2011 and said that the increased frequency of patient handoffs affected the quality of patient care.
Proponents also said that interns benefitted from learning over extended periods during the first 36 hours of hospital stays.
The new standard, Nasca told the Post, would “improve the coordination of clinical care by the interns and residents in the teaching environment.”
The current 80-hour work week limit, along with restrictions on consecutive work days and overnight shifts, would remain in place, while the recommendation would add directives for supervisors to monitor the mental health of young doctors.
Critics nonetheless argued that the change would compromise patient safety and suggested that providers instead focus on improving transitions between doctors.
“Study after study shows that sleep-deprived resident physicians are a danger to themselves, their patients and the public,” Michael Carome of advocacy group Public Citizen told the paper.
The full ACGME is set to consider the recommendation in February. If approved, it would take effect next summer and affect the next class of medical school graduates.