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Fatigue Can Cause Medical Errors

Posted on:6/29/2012
Provision of institutional health care is a 24-hour-a-day business. Hospitals and nursing centers must be staffed around the clock with professional medical care providers to provide continuous health care. This necessitates the use of standard shiftwork and some nonstandard work schedules.


When evaluating issues of medical accidents and errors, hospital management and personnel supervisors should carefully consider the safety and quality of care implications associated with predictable performance decrements attributable to employee fatigue. Among such decrements are slowed reaction time, lapses of attention to critical details, reduced motivation, errors of omission, decreased vigor for successful completion of important medical care tasks and compromised problem-solving initiative. Fatigue, sleep loss, patient surveillance, variation in worker performance, and disrupted circadian rhythms can all contribute to the likelihood of an accident in medical care settings.

Everyone has experienced varying degrees of fatigue and probably remembers how it affected performance of important tasks, such as driving a car late at night. Fatigue, which results from continued mental or physical activity, is characterized by diminished ability to do work and a subjective feelings of tiredness. Fatigue also may result from inadequate rest, sleep loss, or from displaced or disrupted biological rhythms.

With physical fatigue, the sensory receptors or bodily muscles exhibit a temporary loss of power to respond. General or mental fatigue is characterized by subjective feelings of weariness after hours of repeated performance of predominately nonphysical tasks.

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