Does Daylight Savings Time Increase Medical Errors?

A new study published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine finds that the springtime transition to Daylight Savings Time may result in an increase in medical errors made by healthcare orders. The study was published in August 2020 by a group of authors including Branu Prakash Kolla of the Department of Psychiatry and Psychology at the Mayo Clinic; Brandon J. Coombes of the Division of Bioinformatics at the Mayo Clinic; Timothy I. Morgenthaler of the Center for Sleep Medicine at the Mayo Clinic; and Meghna P. Mansukhani of the Center for Sleep Medicine at the Mayo Clinic.

According to the Journal of General Internal Medicine, the observational study’s objective was to examine “the change in reported patient safety-related incidents (SRIs), in the week following the transition into and out of DST over a period of 8 years.” It specifically observed incidents at “A US-based large healthcare organization” with locations in various states around the country. It measured “Voluntarily reported SRIs that occurred 7 days prior to and following the spring and fall time changes for years 2010–2017,” and separately identified incidents that were likely to have resulted from human error. Changes in SRI numbers “from the week before and after the time change (either spring or fall) were modeled using a negative binomial mixed model with a random effect to correct for non-independent observations in consecutive weeks.”

When the researchers did not limit their analysis to SRIs resulting from human error, they did not identify any significant changes in SRIs in the weeks preceding or following the shift to DST. However, when they limited the data set to SRIs involving human error, they found a statistically significant increase in human errors of 18.7% after the shift to DST. According to a new York Times report on the study, the majority of these errors “involved medications, administering either the wrong dose or the wrong drug.”

When the country shifted back to standard time in the fall, the study found, no significant change in human error SRIs followed either before or after the transition. The study’s authors recommended that both lawmakers and healthcare providers “evaluate delayed start of shifts or other contingency measures to mitigate the increased risk of SRIs during transition to DST in spring.” And in a statement to the Times, one of the study’s authors, Bhanu Prakash Kolla, suggested an end to Daylight Savings Time: “We’ve fallen into a pattern with this change of clocks… I don’t see an upside to it.”

The study is accessible via the Journal of General Internal Medicine.

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