Curing Physician Burn-Out with Power Naps

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Physician burn-out is an ongoing topic of discussion in today’s healthcare world, and theories are being bandied about over how this burn-out can be combatted and even cured.

As Karen Cheung-Larivee reports over at Fierce Healthcare, a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association believes that the solution could be as simple as letting physicians take a nap.

The study was conducted using 100 first-year residents from the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania and the Philadelphia VA Medical Center. “The intervention group consisted of interns who worked a 30-hour shift,” Cheung-Larivee writes. “They had protected sleep periods between 12:30 a.m. and 5:30 a.m., in which they received an average of two to three hours of sleep. During that time, the interns had to give their cell phone to another awake resident to ensure proper coverage of patients.”

Perhaps not surprisingly, the results were positive. The participants felt “…less fatigued after on-call nights and increased their sleep time by half.”

The majority of the residents also had no problem turning their cell phones over to a designated covering resident, one element of the study that led researchers to conclude that the younger generation of physicians is “embracing the importance of sleep and looking for ways to increase their own performance to better treat their patients.”

This concept of protected sleep time isn’t necessarily original, having been advocated by a 2009 report from the Institute of Medicine and a 2011 order from the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME) limiting the work hours of first-year residents to 16 hours, along with The Joint Commission warning last year about adverse events being directly tied to worker fatigue.

There are critics, naturally, of these ideas. As Cheung-Larivee writes, “…critics of the mandatory ACGME change have questioned the inadvertent effects on patient safety and, more recently, a potential workforce deficit with patient volume under health reform.”

The critics call these solutions a “one-size-fits-all model” that demand “other viable options.”

Sleep seems to be the most commonsense answer to physician fatigue, however, but what do you think? Should physicians be allowed the so-called “power nap” during long shifts? Does this hamper patient care? What is your organization doing to ensure against physician burn-out? What “other viable options” would you propose?

-by Pete Fernbaugh

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