CHICAGO --- On July 1, a national policy change allowing hospital residents flexible duty hours will begin as a result of Dr. Karl Bilimoria’s landmark NEJM study showing flexibility is safer for patients and better trains new doctors.   

Bilimoria is director of the Surgical Outcomes and Quality Improvement Center at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and a Northwestern Medicine physician.  

“The policy change will allow residents to stay to care for critically ill patients or finish surgeries instead of having to leave when their duty-hour clock was up,” said Bilimoria, whose study driving the policy change was published in the New England Journal of Medicine on Feb. 2, 2016. “They can stay to stabilize a patient as long it’s for the care of a single patient, and if it’s the resident’s own decision.”

Bilimoria said 85 percent of surgical residents are enthusiastic about this flexibility.

“This is an important change that allows common sense flexibility to make sure we are delivering optimal patient care and educating our future physician work force the best way we can.”

Previously the cap on resident duty hours was 24 hours for older residents and 16 hours for first-year residents.

“Now, we have evidence to show providing flexibility is safe for patients and better for resident education,” Bilimoria said. You can stay as long as you need to for one patient, but if you are taking care of a group of patients, the 24-hour cap remains, he noted.

“When doctors have to hand off their patients to other doctors at dangerous, inopportune times, that creates vulnerability to the loss of critical information, a break in the doctor-patient relationship and unsafe care,” Bilimoria said.

Read about Dr. Bilimoria’s residents’ duty hours research.

More News at Northwestern Now