Jt Comm J Qual Patient Saf. 2023 Jul 7:S1553-7250(23)00154-X. doi: 10.1016/j.jcjq.2023.06.014. Online ahead of print.
Resident physician work hour limits continue to be controversial. Numerous trials have come to conflicting conclusions about the impact on patient safety of eliminating extended duration work shifts. We conducted meta-analyses to evaluate the impact of work hour policies and work schedules on patient safety. After identifying 8,362 potentially relevant studies and reviewing 688 full-text articles, 132 studies were retained and graded on quality of evidence. Of these, 68 studies provided enough information for consideration in meta-analyses. We found that patient safety improved following implementation of the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education's 2003 and 2011 resident physicians work hour guidelines. Limiting all resident physicians to 80-hour work weeks and 28-hour shifts in 2003 was associated with an 11% reduction in mortality (p < 0.001). Limited shift durations and shorter work weeks were also associated with improved patient safety in clinical trials and observational studies not specifically tied to policy changes. Given the preponderance of evidence showing that patient and physician safety is negatively affected by long work hours, efforts to improve physician schedules should be prioritized. Policies that enable extended-duration shifts and long work weeks should be reexamined. Further research should expand beyond resident physicians to additional study populations, including attending physicians and other health care workers.