Can Doctor Fatigue Lead to Malpractice?

Tired doctor sleeping on his desk at medical office.When people get injured, they put their trust in the medical professionals that will wind up treating them. Whether it’s nurses, doctors, surgeons, anesthesiologists, health care providers have a great deal of responsibility when they work with patients. In fact, because an accident or injury can happen at any time, a number of medical professionals need to be on call at all hours of the day. Medical professionals, however, need rest just like anyone else, and when they don’t get that rest, their work performance can drop due to fatigue. Nobody would want a doctor who is half-awake to provide them with treatment that can affect their lives. In order to further analyze how fatigue fits into medical malpractice, however, it is important to first get a better understanding of what medical malpractice is.

Medical Malpractice

While most people might think that medical malpractice, or medical negligence, is any mistake made by a medical professional, in reality, malpractice is much more than that. Under Florida Statute 766.102, medical negligence is defined as a breach of the prevailing professional standard of care for a health care provider. This professional standard of care is the level of care, skill, and treatment which is recognized as acceptable and appropriate by similar health care providers of reasonable prudence.

Even though the statute does state that doctors shall be held responsible for any medical negligence, it also states that a medical professional cannot be held responsible for an injury, if the injury is the only evidence a person has to show. The injured party has the responsibility to prove that the doctor negligent, generally through the use of expert witnesses. While this does seem a bit extreme, the courts do recognize that there are certain situations in which the injury is clear evidence of a doctor’s negligence. One example of such an injury is when foreign objects are found within the patient’s body after surgery.

Because medical malpractice covers negligent actions by doctors, the term can cover a broad range of activities, including, but not limited to:


-surgical error

-mixing up patients

-leaving foreign objects inside the patient

-misreading medical data

-failure to keep up with current medical trends

Doctor Fatigue

At this point, you might be wondering about whether injuries caused by a doctor’s fatigue may support a medical malpractice claim. In most circumstances, the answer is yes. This is because the dangers a fatigued health care provider presents are numerous. Much as with driving a vehicle, performing medical procedures or basic health care services while fatigued can cause great risk to patients, as well as the people around the physician. Below are a few dangers that come with doctor fatigue.


Rarely does a level of fatigue have to reach the point where the individual is dozing off at every chance they get. Even a moderate amount of fatigue is sufficient to impair judgment and a health care provider’s ability to analyze the situation. The lack of focus that comes with fatigue can easily lead doctors to misdiagnose diseases that they would ordinarily have been able to correctly diagnose. This can be especially dangerous, since there are times when the difference between diseases can be a subtle one at times.

Incorrect Test Reading

In addition to misdiagnosis, there is the risk of incorrect test reading. This form of medical malpractice involves the misreading of any kind of medical test or examination, such as blood tests or x-rays. This can lead to further misdiagnosis by providing later health care professionals with a mistaken view of the patient’s needs.

Medical Errors

While misdiagnosis and incorrect test readings are considered to be medical errors, there are many other errors that can result from the fatigue of a health care professional. These errors can range from providing the wrong type of medication to a patient, to making a surgical error while operating on a patient. Regardless of the complexity of the matter, any error caused by a medical professional is bound to hurt the patient.


While there may be many comedies premised on the idea of medical mix-ups, the truth is that a medical mix-up can be a life-threatening mistake. Treatment that could have saved one person’s life, would endanger the life of another if treatments or charts were mixed up. Doctor fatigue can lead to a greater risk of mix-ups, since fatigue can reduce a person’s ability to focus and concentrate on the task at hand.

Alarm Fatigue

Fatigue doesn’t have to simply be tiredness, however. There is also the risk of the concept of “alarm fatigue.” This form of fatigue occurs primarily because of the constant barrage of medical and electronic alarms going off around a person. In some cases, it can get to the point where an individual begins to overlook or block out any alarms that might go off around them, leading them to miss opportunities to save a person’s life.