Residents’ Work Hours Have Gotten Better, but Patient Safety Hasn’t

Mar 13, 2014, 2:00 PM

Improved patient safety and educational environments at academic medical centers were the goals of work-hour reforms adopted for first-year residents in 2011. A study published online by the Journal of Hospital Medicine shows that progress on the patient-safety front has been slow going.

Researchers examined data on patients discharged from the Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore from 2008 to 2012 and analyzed safety outcomes for those seen by resident and non-resident hospitalists. The analysis revealed no significant differences—before and after the 2011 reforms that reduced the maximum length of residents’ on-duty shifts from 30 hours to 16—in areas including length of stay, 30-day readmission, inpatient mortality, ICU admission, and hospital-acquired-conditions.

The study concludes that, as noted by the Institute of Medicine, improving patient safety requires a significant focus on keeping residents’ caseloads manageable, ensuring adequate supervision of first-year residents, training residents on safe handoffs in care, and conducting ongoing evaluations of patient safety and any unintended consequences of work-hour reforms.

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