A New Breed Of Medical Specialist: The Nocturnist

Nocturnist Medical Malpractice.pngIf you had asked me last week to define “nocturnist,” I would’ve guessed, “A musical composer who writes nocturnes. For example, Chopin or Debussey.”
But, as Kaiser Health News reports, a nocturnist is actually a member of a new medical specialty – a doctor who works exclusively nights at a hospital. You can think of a nocturnist as the nighttime counterpart of a hospitalist, that relatively new breed of doctor who practices exclusively at a hospital.
Hospitals are hiring nocturnists to reduce the nighttime incidence of medical malpractice. Nighttime can be an especially dangerous time for hospital patients: not only do hospitals tend to run a skeleton staff at night, but many of the doctors who are on duty (younger residents who work long hours) can be fatigued at nighttime.
The research data starkly illustrate how dangerous short staffs battling fatigue can be to patients. According to a 2008 study by the American Medical Association, hospital patients who suffer nighttime heart attacks are 50 to 70 percent less likely to survive than patients who have their heart attacks during the daytime, when medical staff are bright-eyed and bushy-tailed.
My guess is that hospitals’ use of nocturnists will reduce medical malpractice. Three months ago, we blogged about a new obstetric patient safety program that reduced medical malpractice by 99 percent in New York hospitals that participated. One of the main techniques that these New York obstetrics wards employed was the hiring of a “laborist,” an obstetrician who only worked nights and who was there to help the daytime obstetricians who might become fatigued during a labor that drags on for hours and hours.
We’ve also seen how minor fatigue — the typical fatigue that occurs over the course of an eight-hour daytime shift — can raise doctors’ risks of medical malpractice by twenty percent.
So let’s hear it for the nocturnists. And let’s hope they help the medical profession to cut back on the 100,000 deaths that occur annually due to medical malpractice.

This blog in maintained by the Boston medical malpractice lawyers at The Law Office of Alan H. Crede, P.C.