Shorter shifts could be better for both health care workers and patients, study shows

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Would you like your work shift to be cut in half? New research indicates there may be widespread benefits of doing so for surgeons.

However, before non-surgeons clamor to get in on the deal, it should be noted that surgeons have traditionally worked 24-hour on call shifts. And the long shifts can potentially compromise care.

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“Hospitals have traditionally assigned general surgeons to 24-hour on-call schedules, which often puts them in a situation where they need to operate and make complex medical decisions after being on duty for 18 or 20 hours or more,” a new study reads.

A research team at Texas Tech University looked at potential benefits of moving away from 24-hour on call shifts and toward an acute-care surgery model, in which surgeons would be in the hospital for 12-hour shifts.

They focused the study on patients who are admitted for acute appendicitis, because it is a common urgent operation.

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The results indicated a win-win situation: better for the surgeon and the patient. And not only that, but it was also cost efficient.

Patients treated using the acute-care model were more likely to: get into surgery quicker and be released quicker, which can save hospitals money.

"There have been studies that have shown that patients do better with acute care surgeons in the hospital, but what our institution's study also shows is that this arrangement also helps with cost, and that's important to convince hospitals and departments to try to support the model of acute care surgeons," Dr. Robyn Richmond, one of the study’s authors, said.

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Richmond said in addition to the cost saving, she believes the shift in shifts could also benefit the future of medicine.

"We think it's important for upcoming generations of surgeons too to see what a flexible schedule we have on place," she said.

Now, Richmond said the researchers will evaluate additional variables that may affect outcomes of a 12-hour shift model, to make sure it is the shorter shifts that improved conditions.

“A multivariable analysis will eventually need to be done to make sure that the outcomes we obtain are truly attributable to the shift model," Dr. Ariel P. Santos, the study’s coauthor, said. "Is it wellness of the surgeon, or the skill of the surgeon or some other variable? We want to make sure we eliminate those variables that potentially could change the outcome as well as the result."