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Doctor fatigue: Understanding the risks

When you need medical treatment, the last thing you want is a doctor who is too fatigued to give you a high level of care. This can lead to serious and often life-altering mistakes.

Unfortunately, that's the reality for a lot of patients. It's critical that you understand the risks. Here are a few key points to keep in mind:

  • Sleep deprivation can contribute to fatigue, but they're not necessarily the same thing since outside factors can impact fatigue levels.
  • Some of those outside factors include having a lot of stress, having an excessive workload and seeing disruptions to your circadian rhythm.
  • Fatigue causes more changes to the doctor's performance than sleep loss alone.
  • While physical performance does deteriorate due to fatigue, the real risk is the decline in cognitive function.
  • Examples of cognitive decline include impaired thought processes, impaired learning abilities, interpersonal dysfunction and memory issues.

As you can imagine, a fatigued doctor may make avoidable errors that he or she would never make under normal circumstances. This is one reason that doctors with a clean track record still make mistakes. Though that doctor's history may indicate that he or she is proficient, you have to consider what the doctor feels like at the exact moment that they're working on you. If that doctor is stressed, tired and overworked, you may not get the same level of care that the medical records would suggest.

Realistically, doctors suffer from fatigue just because they work in an exhausting, high-stress field. It's a risk. If you suffer injuries, you have to know what legal options you have to seek financial compensation.

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