Surgeons' ability to perform laparoscopic procedures declines significantly after spending a night on call, according to a new report.
Danish researchers used a laparoscopic simulator to evaluate the performance of 14 resident surgeons in carrying out repetitions of six surgical tasks during normal daytime hours and at 9.30 in the morning after a night on call.
The average duration of sleep during the on-call night was 1.5 hours, after which the residents took significantly longer on most of the tasks than if they had had a full night's sleep. Also, there were significantly more unnecessary movements and errors after being on call.
The authors studied laparoscopic skills because they are easy to quantify, but they note that their findings apply to conventional operative skills as well and that patient safety may be compromised when a fatigued surgeon performs an operation (BMJ, 2001; 323: 1222-3).