Studies Link Long Hours to Medical Errors

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Fatigue caused by extensive work hours can impair residents’ and interns’ judgment, resulting in medical errors and patient harm.

Although residents and interns are working under rules to limit their work hours, research suggests many violate such limitations. According to a recent report published in The Journal of the American Medical Association, 80% of 4,000 interns studied said they violate mandatory standards of work hours. As a result, patients are at an increased risk of serious medical errors.

Additionally, a QSHC Online study found that 41% of residents reported fatigue as the cause of medical errors. The patients had serious adverse outcomes in 90% of the cases. In nearly 1/3 of the cases the patient died. Common mistakes included errors in diagnosis, prescribing, evaluation, and communication.

Long work hours pose a serious threat to patient safety. Fatigue slows reaction time, reduces attention to detail, and drains energy. Now more than ever, proper teamwork and communication skills are being recognized as a solution to prevent potential patient-harming errors.

“The impact of sleep deprivation on performance has been closely monitored in the aviation industry, but studies like these indicate that healthcare is afflicted with many of the same problems the commercial aviation once faced,” says Captain Stephen Harden, former Top Gun instructor and President of LifeWings Partners LLC.

LifeWings is a Memphis-based organization that offers a proven approach to teamwork training. LifeWings uses a system based on aviation’s “best safety practices” and molds those practices to the healthcare industry. Every year LifeWings trains over 8,000 high-performance medical team members.

One area of the training focuses on alertness management and fatigue countermeasures. “In this industry it’s difficult to regulate the long hours providers work. Our goal is to equip them with the skills necessary to manage fatigue,” says Michael Osborn, VP of Operations at LifeWings. “After we conduct the teamwork training we implement customized safety tools that help mandate desired behaviors.”

LifeWings’ teamwork and safety tools’ programs have been shown to be highly effective in reducing human error. In fact, one client was able to improve their pre-procedure antibiotic administration, achieving an increase in compliance, from 68% to 96%, while also dramatically decreasing post-surgical infections.    

After completing the LifeWings training, Dr. James A. Loveless Jr. of the Summit Medical Center in Hermitage, TN said, “This course should be taught at all levels of training (med school, internship, residency), and reinforced at the hospitals in which we practice.”

About LifeWings Partners LLC

LifeWings Partners LLC was founded by a former U.S. Navy Top Gun instructor, commercial airline pilot, and two physicians who are former NASA astronauts. The firm specializes in applying aviation-based teamwork training and safety tools to help healthcare facilities save patients’ lives and reduce costs. LifeWings has helped over 45 facilities nationwide provide better care to their patients. Measurable results are found in all LifeWings’ initiatives, including one hospital’s “wrong surgery” rate went from 1 in 10,000 to 15,000 cases to 1 in 100,000. The firm also conducts Leadership Development workshops for healthcare executive teams.


Steve Harden, President

LifeWings Partners LLC


9198 Crestwyn Hills Drive

Memphis, TN 38125

sharden @


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