March 11 (UPI) -- First-year doctors will soon be eligible to work up to 28 hours consecutively after a governing body lifted the 16-hour cap on shift lengths for residents in U.S. hospitals.
The decision by the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education, or ACGME, which accredits medical residency programs, came after members studied the effects of a cap on hours. They concluded it had not improved care and, in some instances decreased the quality of a first-year resident's professional development.
The cap only applied to doctors in their first year of practice after graduating medical school. Though they are licensed to practice medicine, first-year residents, also referred to as interns, are required to mentor under older doctors.
"The Task Force [review panel] has determined that the hypothesized benefits associated with the changes made to first-year resident scheduled hours in 2011 have not been realized and the disruption of team-based care and supervisory systems has had a significant negative impact on the professional education of the first-year resident, and effectiveness of care delivery of the team as a whole," the AGME wrote in announcing the decision.
The new rules limit normal shifts to 24 hours, but that can be expanded to 28 hours in order to facilitate transitioning a patient to another doctor's care. It also caps a resident's work week at 80 hours.
Doctors in favor of lifting the cap said patients are comforted when they are familiar with the doctor assigned to care for them, and the 16-hour shift length often prevented residents from seeing a patient through the full length of medical procedures.
Others opposed the change, saying exhausted doctors are more likely to provide substandard care, putting patients at risk.
"The ACGME's adoption of this dangerous proposal displays a reckless disregard for the lives and health of thousands of medical residents and their patients nationwide," Dr. Michael Carome, Public Citizen's Health Research Group director said in a statement Friday.
The new standards will take effect July 1.