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Overwork may be behind medical errors

July 26, 2006

Re "Panel: Medication Errors Hazardous to Your Health," July 21

I was shocked to read that there are an estimated 98,000 deaths a year because of medical error in this country. This statistic warrants a serious evaluation of our medical system. Your article explores some possible errors that account for about 7,000 of these deaths.

However, a possibly greater source of error was not discussed. New doctors serving residency in our hospitals are often expected to work more than 80 hours a week, and the typical shift of nurses is 12 hours, even for the most difficult medical duties, like working in the emergency room.

Numerous studies have shown that decision-making skills are compromised during the pressures of long hours and lack of sleep. Asking hospital personnel to work in such strenuous conditions, especially when they are new to the job, is asking for errors. A serious look at reforming this system should be taken.

JONATHAN FERNSLER

Los Osos, Calif.

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