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Medical Malpractice After Dark

In the June 1, 2007 issue of Reader’s Digest, Night Shift Nightmare discusses the well known phenomenon that more hospital medical malpractice occurs over night and on the weekends.  From the article:

There are many reasons to feel anxious when entering a hospital. In April, a HealthGrades study showed that some 248,000 patient deaths over a three-year period were preventable. What’s less widely known, at least to the general public, is that mistakes tend to multiply on the night shift. You won’t find it in any hospital brochure, but within the medical world, the dangers after dark are well known.

And the article notes that no one is immune from problems:

“To succeed, they have to know what the other people on the team are doing, and how to communicate,” says Dr. Carol Ley, chairman of the University of Minnesota Medical Center’s board and director of occupational medicine at 3M Company. Dr. Ley has firsthand experience with medical error: Her seven-year-old daughter, Jacquelyn, could have died after a morphine pump was mistakenly set too high. It happened during the night shift, following surgery for a shattered elbow; fortunately, Dr. Ley, spending the night in her daughter’s room, noticed Jacquelyn was barely breathing. She puts it bluntly: “The night shift, with its hand-offs and staffing issues, is prime time for medical error.”

The stories and studies cited in the article are frightening.  Fortunately, the article states that the medical community, in particular medical schools, are taking notice.   Many schools are developing computer models to help properly allocate nurses and staff; many schools are trying to foster a bigger sense of teamwork between different levels of staff and between different shifts; many schools are hospitals are starting to train staff to better handle crises.

Of particular interest to us was that one of the case studies in the article was from a Texas hospital (though not one from Austin).

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