New Studies Assess Impact of Limitations on Residents’ Work Hours

Sep 18, 2013, 1:00 PM

The Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education’s decision to limit the working hours of medical residents has not increased patient mortality rates, but it has decreased the time residents spend on direct patient care, according to two studies published in the August issue of the Journal of General Internal Medicine.

Researchers from the University of Pennsylvania studied 13.7 million Medicare patients admitted to hospitals between 2000 and 2008. In the first three years after the Accreditation Council enacted an 80-hour work week for residents in 2003, the researchers found no significant changes in patient mortality within 30 days of admission.

“We can reassure the public that patients did not appear to be harmed by the initial duty hour reform of 2003,” senior study author Jeffrey Silber, MD, PhD, told American Medical News. “We have published many papers prior to this looking at other outcomes [including prolonged length of stay following 2003 duty hour reform], and we have found similar results.”

A second change in resident hours came in 2011, when the Accreditation Council limited residents’ maximum shift length to 16 hours, down from 30. Researchers at Johns Hopkins University and the University of Maryland found that this change contributed to a reduction in the amount of time residents spent on direct patient care. Studies conducted in 1989 and 1993 found an average of 18 to 22 percent of residents’ time was spent on direct patient care; the new study finds residents only spent 12 percent of their time on direct patient care—or about eight minutes per patient, per day—in 2012.

Residents spent most of their time (64 percent) on indirect patient care tasks, such as talking with other health professionals, reviewing charts, and handoffs, the study concluded. Lead author Lauren Block, MD, MPH, told American Medical News that while residents aren’t spending as much time eating and sleeping at hospitals, “that time is not being made up spending time with patients, because they spend that time instead working at their computer stations.”

Read more about the studies in American Medical News.

This commentary originally appeared on the RWJF Human Capital Blog. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the authors.