Time Change and Medical Errors

A recent article published in The New York Times discusses a study in the Journal of General Internal Medicine which examines the link between time change and medical errors. The study’s lead author Dr. Bhanu Prakash Kolla is a professor of psychiatry at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN. Researchers utilized voluntarily reported, patient safety-related incidents caused by defective systems, equipment failure, or human error. They looked at data from the seven days preceding and following time changes in the spring and fall over an 8-year period. There were no significant differences in overall errors. However, when the researchers looked at the number of human errors alone, there was a statistically significant increase of 18.7%, mostly involving medication administration. This increase was only observed during the fall time change, when the clocks were moved backwards by one hour.

Time Magazine published a piece outlining the origin of daylight saving time, the principal purpose of which is to save energy. Its effectiveness in doing so is unclear; numerous studies have been conducted with conflicting findings. CNN published a story examining the effects changing the clocks has on our sleep. Dr. Kannan Ramar, a sleep specialist at the Mayo Clinic states, “We’ve had evidence slowly building up over the years, in terms of the adverse effects when we move from daylight saving time to standard time, and vice versa.” These impacts include cardiovascular issues like stroke and atrial fibrillation, medication errors, mental health struggles, and increased traffic accidents. This aligns with Dr. Kolla’s results that indicate when we lose an hour of sleep in the fall, human error, specifically involving medication administration, increases significantly.

Dr. Rafael Pelayo, a sleep specialist with the Stanford Sleep Medicine Center states “Biologically it doesn’t make any sense. Even though you’re just getting an hour less of sleep, it takes about five days to get back in sync.” The American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) agrees, calling for a permanent, countrywide transition to a single system of time. Some legislatures agree too; ‘The Sunshine Protection Act’ was introduced in 2019 and proposes observing daylight savings time permanently. So far there are currently 13 states that have enacted legislation and at least 32 states that have considered 85 pieces of legislation to provide for year-round daylight saving time. Current federal law requires an act of Congress to make the change. While the future of daylight-saving time is uncertain, the research suggests that losing an hour of sleep in the fall can significantly increase the occurrence of human error and subsequent medical malpractice.

Regardless of the underlying reason for the malpractice, physicians must be held accountable for their medical errors. The attorneys at Abramson, Brown & Dugan have vast experience handling medical malpractice cases. If you or a loved one has been harmed as a result of medical error, contact one of our experienced attorneys today.