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Linking patient care errors to extended shift times

In general, most of those who seek medical treatment in Bozeman hold their caregivers in high regard and thus place a great deal of confidence in them. However, the number of medical malpractice lawsuits filed each year in the U.S. may suggest that errors committed by clinical workers are not all that uncommon. In identifying the causes of medical mistakes, people will often search for problems that have already been linked to an increased risk of errors. One such factor is the amount of hours worked by the nursing and support staff entrusted with the care of patients.

According to information shared by Health Affairs, there is currently no limit set by state or federal regulations on the time a nurse may be required to work in single work day or during a work week. Only four states actually have legislation that prohibits mandatory overtime for healthcare workers (Montana is not one of them). Nursing shifts can often last up to 12-16 consecutive hours. On top of that, shift changeover often occurs at odd hours, with relief staff sometimes coming in at 3:00 or 4:00 in the morning. Given these unique circumstances, one may likely assume that fatigue is often a factor nurses must deal with. When considering the importance of the work nurses do in caring for patients, that potential for fatigue may be cause for alarm.

Just how much can extended shift times increase the potential for errors in patient care? Data shared by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality shows the risk of actual errors to double when nurses work more than 12.5 hours compared to those who work eight. This appears to show that when trying to find the source of clinical errors, researching caregiver shift times may be a good place to start. 

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