Teamwork among fatigued providers could boost patient safety

Working together as a team can fend off individual physician fatigue and promote better problem-solving skills, according to a study published online Aug. 15 in the American Psychological Association's Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied. Considering the patient safety implications, hospitals and health systems are constantly looking for ways to combat physician fatigue, especially for residents while abiding by duty hour limits.

Previous studies have examined how fatigue affects individuals but not necessarily at how groups cope with it. In this most recent study, researchers asked 171 army cadets to complete math problems after training exercises (e.g., military drills and night watches), with some officers resting while others tested. As expected, individual soldiers who were fatigued did not perform as well as their alert counterparts. However, teams of tired cadets performed just as well as those who were alert.

"Flexible thinking during problem solving is vital in many fields," said Daniel Frings, a senior lecturer in social psychology at London South Bank University. "Failing to adapt quickly to new situations can be very dangerous in constantly changing environments, such as hospitals and battlefields. A doctor may misdiagnose a patient if he always connects one group of symptoms with a certain condition rather than considering other possibilities."

For more:
- read the press release
- check out the full study (.pdf)

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