To add some spice to the never-ending debate on the effects of sleep deprivation on surgeons are two recent papers published in respected journals.
“Prospective evaluation of consultant surgeon sleep deprivation and outcomes in more than 4000 consecutive cardiac surgical procedures” was published ahead of print in Archives of Surgery in May. This was a prospective study of the sleep patterns of six consultant [senior attending] cardiac surgeons in Canada over a six-year period. Of the over 4000 cardiac operations performed, there was no difference in the rates of mortality or complications whether the surgeon had less than 3 hours of sleep, 3 to 6 hours of sleep or more than 6 hours of sleep.
“Association of operative time of day with outcomes after thoracic organ transplant” appeared in the Journal of the American MedicalAssociation on June 1. This was a retrospective study of over 27,000 heart or lung transplant operations divided into two groups based on whether their procedures were performed from 7 am to 7 pm (days) or 7 pm to 7 am (nights). Almost exactly 50% of the operations were performed during each time period. Mortality rates at 30 days and one year were not statistically significantly different whether the procedure was done during days or nights.
Even the most ardent crusader against “tired surgeons” would have to admit that these are well-executed studies of rather complex operative procedures. In addition, there are not enough transplant or cardiac surgeons around to allow for shift work. As shown by the data in the transplant paper, half of all such procedures occur at night. Someone has to perform these operations when the organ and the recipient are available, not the next day.
The transplant paper was the subject of a New York Times blog and it drew the usual number of ridiculous comments. I don’t know why I read them because they are so infuriating. Here are some of the more inane ones:
“This is part of the "doctors are superhuman" myth that is simply unsupported in the real world.” Never mind the data.
“Are the ‘qualified surgeons’ in the business of eliminating possible competition, for example?” In response to the fact that there are not that many transplant surgeons.
“A heart transplant in the US costs roughly $145,000. Figure the chief surgeon makes $100K and 9 "helpers" make $5K each for a 5-hour operation. That works out to be $10,000/hr for the doc and $1,000/hr. for each assistant.” And the hospital does not receive any payment?
“Surgery requires superb eye-hand coordination which deteriorates with fatigue. Airline pilots have co-pilots and extensive mechanical controls on the plane and on the ground. Transplant surgeons do not.” Never mind the data.
Feel free to add your own comments [preferably not infuriating, and ...watch your math].