Sleepy people are not at their best. Fatigue increases irritability, impairs judgement, and slows motor skills. Drowsy drivers seriously injure tens of thousands of Americans every year. Drowsy physicians can seriously injure tens of thousands of people as well. 

According to one recent study, about a third of physicians admitted that they were so tired they weren’t able to properly care for their patients. Usually in situations like this, the actual percentage is much higher. 

If a fatigued doctor makes a serious medical mistake which causes injury, a New York personal injury attorney might be able to obtain substantial compensation for the victim or survivors. Available compensatory damages usually include money for economic losses, such as medical bills, and noneconomic losses, such as pain and suffering. Additional punitive damages are normally available as well. Unless a court awards these additional damages, negligent doctors might continue to give patients less than their best and put their safety at risk.

What Causes Doctor Fatigue?

We mentioned the three basic elements of a medical malpractice case in the previous paragraph. Now, let’s break them down, starting with doctor fatigue.

On TV, Emergency Room doctors and other on-call physicians appear in patient rooms with little sleep and seamlessly perform life-saving surgical procedures. The real world is much different. The aforementioned fatigue impairments make it impossible for doctors to perform at a high level. Quick shortcuts, like drinking coffee, don’t erase the effects of fatigue. Only sleep does that.

Doctors who work long days in clinics or managed healthcare facilities are often mentally and physically fatigued. An overfull schedule is not sustainable for very long. The body can only take so much.

Most victim/plaintiffs use circumstantial evidence to establish fatigue. The amount of sleep a doctor gets at night and the number of patients seen during the day are the two most obvious bits of evidence. The time of day is relevant as well. Most people are naturally drowsy late at night, early in the morning, and around midday, no matter how much rest they had the night before. Circadian rhythm fatigue is even worse if the person recently changed her/his daily schedule.

Effects of Fatigue

As mentioned, fatigue causes irritability (communication problems) and impairs judgement. These two areas also cause most of the serious medical mistakes in New York.

Communication is an important aspect for a patient-physician relationship.  Unfortunately, statistically, most doctors listen to most patients for about eleven seconds before they interrupt or redirect them. A fatigued doctor who has had a long day might not make it that long.

During these excessively short interactions, doctors can obtain little or no information about the patient’s symptoms. As a result, doctors could diagnose patient illnesses based on what their guts tell them as opposed to the facts presented by the patient.

Furthermore, fatigued doctors usually fall back on what they know. When they talk to patients, they often lapse into Medspeak. Frequently, important information gets lost in translation, and the patient suffers as a result.

Somewhat similarly, judgment impairment due to fatigue is also a factor at two critical junctures in the doctor-patient relationship.

Tired doctors often aren’t thinking clearly. So, they may order too many tests, or more frequently, not enough tests. The result is either information overload or, more likely, information deficiency. This lack of data magnifies the communication-related misdiagnosis issues discussed above.

On the back end, fatigued doctors sometimes cannot adequately interpret test data. They might miss important details. Even worse, drowsy physicians frequently delegate such tasks to a patient care technician or nurse. These professionals are highly educated, but they usually aren’t qualified to interpret test results.

Medical Injuries

Regardless of the underlying cause, misdiagnosis in any form is a serious medical mistake. Once again, the patient usually pays the price.

A cancer patient’s very survival often depends on a prompt and proper diagnosis. If the treatment program is not aggressive enough, it might not be sufficient to beat the cancer. If it is too aggressive, the patient could suffer from serious or even fatal side effects.

Such medical mistakes usually require extensive revision surgery. Group health plans almost never cover these procedures. Additionally, medical misdiagnosis victims usually have a very poor quality of life. Money cannot fully correct this situation, but it can help victims and survivors carry on with their lives.

The pandemic has made the past year especially challenging and we thank our first line responders. However, drowsy doctors can make serious mistakes which cause injury.

For a free consultation with an experienced personal injury attorney in New York, contact Marie Napoli.