In Response to Unsafe Work Hour Data, Congress Reintroduces Patient & Physician Safety and Protection Act
RESTON, Va., July 1 -- Senator Jon Corzine (D-N.J.) recently reintroduced the Patient and Physician Safety and Protection Act (S.1297), which would, if passed, enforce work-hour regulations through civil penalties rather than a loss of accreditation and appropriate needed funds for hospitals to hire more auxiliary staff, and provide whistleblower protection to resident physicians who report violations.
The legislation, which was first introduced in November 2001 by Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.), calls for resident work hours to be limited to 80 hours per week and no more than 24 hours per shift. The American Medical Student Association (AMSA), the nation’s largest independent medical student organization, helped draft the legislation and has led the debate over reductions in resident physician work hours to improve patient and resident safety.
Today marks two years since the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME) implemented guidelines for resident work hours, which state that residents cannot work over 30 hours per shift or 80 hours per week (averaged over four weeks). In the first year of the guidelines, the ACGME approved over 80 percent of applications for exemption to these standards. Programs in violation of the guidelines are not made known to the public. Also, there is no whistleblower protection provided for residents who wish to report violations.
“AMSA applauds Congress, specifically Senator Corzine for reintroducing this recent work-hour and patient safety legislation,” says Leana S. Wen, AMSA national president. “Numerous studies have shown that the long shifts resident physicians work endanger patients as well as themselves. As a patient, you should expect the very best care in a hospital. Would you want to be treated by someone who has not slept for over 24 hours?”
The Harvard Work Hours, Health and Safety Study further validates the need for federal work-hour regulations. The study, released in the New England Journal of Medicine (Oct. 28, 2004), is among the first to directly prove that sleep deprivation associated with extended work hours may contribute to the high risk of medical errors. Among the results, it found that interns made 35.9 percent more serious medical errors when they worked extended shifts (over 24 hours).
“Despite the fact that the guidelines have been in place for two years, AMSA continues to receive numerous reports of violations. The current system is not working,” continues Wen.
In addition to federal legislation, state-based initiatives are pending in Massachusetts, New Jersey and Pennsylvania.
For more information on the work-hour debate, please visit: http://www.amsa.org/hp/reswork.cfm. To speak with a resident-physician on this topic, please contact AMSA: 703-620-6600 ext. 207.
About the American Medical Student Association
The American Medical Student Association (AMSA), with more than a half-century history of medical student activism, is the oldest and largest independent association of physicians-in-training in the United States. Founded in 1950, AMSA is a student-governed, non-profit organization committed to representing the concerns of physicians-in-training. With nearly 60,000 members, including medical and premedical students, residents and practicing physicians, AMSA is committed to improving medical training as well as advancing the profession of medicine. AMSA focuses on four strategic priorities, including universal healthcare, disparities in medicine, diversity in medicine and transforming the culture of medical education. To learn more about AMSA, their strategic priorities, or joining the organization, please visit them online at http://www.amsa.org/.
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