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Physician Fatigue Leads to Costly Medical Mistakes

Tired doctor leaning against the wallBeing overworked and mentally exhausted is an unhealthy, unhappy situation for anyone. But when your job is caring for the health and wellbeing of others, exhaustion and fatigue can carry consequences not only to yourself but to those under your care, too. Mistakes made by exhausted doctors, nurses, and other healthcare workers can cause serious injuries, and even cost lives due to medical malpractice.

Here’s what you should know about how healthcare provider fatigue can lead to medical malpractice, and how you can get legal help if you’ve been injured.

Fatigue May Cause Preventable Medical Mistakes

A 2016 study published in the BMJ calculated that over 250,000 patients per year die as the result of medical errors in the United States, making it the third leading cause of death. Only heart disease and cancer kill more people.

Exhaustion has been shown to lead to medical errors. One study of hospital nurses published in 2004 showed that as working hours increased beyond 40 hours a week or 12 hours a day, the chances for a medical error were “significantly increased.” Another study reported by the Joint Commission Journal on Quality and Patient Safety (JCJQPS) in 2007 found that nurses working over 12.5 hour shifts were anywhere from 1.9 to 3.3 times more likely to make an error.

Hospital residents—doctors who are in training—are also at a particularly high risk for making a fatigue-related mistake. The JCJQPS study shows that residents may make 36 percent more errors when on a traditional 24-hour shift rotation when compared to those on a 16-hour shift, and make five times more errors in diagnosis. Residents also report themselves that they make 300 percent more errors related to fatigue that lead to the death of a patient, according to the study.

When Is a Mistake Malpractice?

Not every poor patient outcome or even mistake on the part of a doctor or healthcare provider is considered medical malpractice. For an outcome to be considered malpractice, the typical standard is that of negligence. Negligence can occur when medical professional fails to act in a way consistent with the standard of care for the profession, when considering how a doctor with similar education and training in a similar situation would act given the same medical circumstances.

Recklessness, though relatively rare, is another standard for medical malpractice. Recklessness is considered an “extreme” form of negligence, and may be considered when the provider’s care falls so far below the standard of care that he or she should have known better, such as treating or operating on a patient while under the influence of alcohol or while taking illegal drugs.

When a doctor or other healthcare provider’s actions fail to meet the standard of care and a patient is harmed, a medical malpractice suit is an appropriate way for the patient to seek restitution for his or her injuries. The provider may be held legally liable for economic damages that the injury caused to the patient, including all medical bills related to the injury and future expenses, rehabilitation or long-term skilled nursing and care costs, lost wages, and more.

However, unlike some other types of cases, Texas law does limit non-economic damages for medical malpractice lawsuits. The state cap on non-economic damages is $250,000 for lawsuits against individual doctors and other providers, and $250,000 for each hospital, to a maximum of $500,000.

Get Legal Help Now

Medical malpractice cases are complex by nature, and require knowledge of both medicine and the law. An attorney with experience and a background in medical malpractice law will be able to advise you about your legal options and how to proceed with your case.

If you’ve been injured by a doctor, nurse, or other healthcare provider and you suspect medical malpractice, Wayne Wright LLP would like to hear from you today. We’ve spent decades standing up for the rights of those injured by negligence, recklessness, or carelessness, and we’re here to help you, too. To speak to a legal professional about your medical malpractice case, call us by phone, use the contact form to send an email, or click the live chat box on this page right now and arrange a free, no-obligation consultation with us today.