Night Shift Changes How Doctors Give Pain Relief, Study Reveals

A recent study found that doctors who were ending a shift were much less likely to prescribe pain medication or were more likely to prescribe a much smaller dose than those just starting their shift. The initial hypothesis for this finding is that doctors are less empathetic toward pain at the end of their shift. This is particularly important because of the kind of pain that hospital patients have, and it suggests that hospitals need to be much more proactive in managing both the schedule of their doctors and the workloads that are placed on them. Initial recommendations are that clinical decisions should not be made by medical professionals who are potentially suffering from fatigue, which can create a bias toward disregarding reported pain. While this is likely a change that cannot be made immediately, medical professionals can be made aware of this apparent inclination and loss of empathy to better inform any decisions that they do have to make after a long day. According to the findings, even professionals who were focused on providing the best possible care for their patients suffered from the effects of a long night shift.

The findings were based on a study of 31 resident physicians who were starting their shift and 26 physicians who were completing a 26-hour shift. Real patients were not used for the diagnosis, but two fictional patients: one was a woman who reported a headache and a man who reported a backache. Doctors ending their shifts were much more likely to diagnose the pain as being less intense, resulting in the doctors being far less likely to prescribe pain relief. The study also looked at over 13,482 discharge letters that were written over a 7-year period. They found that medical professionals were between 20 and 30% less likely to provide a prescription for pain when working the night shift.

Pain management is essential for helping people prevent the development of a worse issue or more intense pain. Studies had previously found that gender and race are common factors in how much pain medication a patient is given, but this study places the focus more on the conditions instead of the patient.

If you would like to learn more about the study or current potential solutions, you can read the full article at Night Shift Changes How Doctors Give Pain Relief, Study Reveals.

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