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Daylight Savings Time May Affect Medical Error Rates: Study

As the United States approaches the end of Daylight Savings Time on November 1, a recently published study suggests loss of sleep due to the switch may increase the risk of healthcare providers committing medical errors or medical malpractice.

In findings were published last month in the Journal of General Internal Medicine, Mayo Clinic researchers report that Daylight Savings Time can increase mistakes by up to 20% after spring and fall time changes.

Researchers conducted a large U.S. based observational study of healthcare organizations across multiple states. They used voluntary safety-related incident reporting occurring seven days prior to and seven days following the spring and fall time changes from 2010 to 2017. This included voluntary reporting of patient incidents caused by defective systems, equipment failure or human error. Researchers focused on incidents likely resulting from human error.

The data suggests safety-related incidents increased after both spring and fall time changes. Differences in incidents overall did not differ before or after daylight savings time when accounting for all types of incidents. But when focusing only on incidents caused by human error, incidents increased by nearly 20%.

Most of the errors involved medications, such as administering the wrong dose or administering the wrong drug.

While increases in medical errors were seen for both spring and fall, increases were much more significant for the fall. In the seven days after the spring Daylight Savings Time change medical errors increased by 5%, but for the fall time change, medical errors increased by 19%.

Daylight Savings Time reduces sleep opportunity by an hour. One hour can make a significant difference for medical professionals who are already working long shifts or may be understaffed. Insufficient sleep in healthcare workers could potentially result in an increase in medical errors.

The study findings demonstrated an increase in medical errors, especially after Daylight Savings Time in the fall compared to the week prior to the time change.

“Policy makers and healthcare organizations should evaluate delayed start of shifts or other contingency measures to mitigate the increased risk of safety-related incidents during transition to daylight savings time in spring,” wrote study authors.

Recent movements have called for the end of Daylight Savings Time which was first implemented in the late 1800s. Advocates say the practice was used for agrarian societies, which largely no longer applies to the United States. Only a small portion of the world’s population observe the time shifts.

Ending the observation of Daylight Savings Time changes could help improve sleeping patterns, reduce travel disruption, complications with record keeping and as seen in this study, reduce the incidence of medical errors.

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