Objective: To study the design, method of implementation, perceived benefits, and problems associated with a night float system.
Design: Self-administered questionnaire completed by program directors, which included both structured and open-ended questions. The answers reflect resident and student opinions as well as those of the program directors, since program directors regularly obtain feedback from these groups.
Setting/participants: The 442 accredited internal medicine residency programs listed in the 1988-89 Directory of Graduate Medical Education Programs.
Results: Of the 442 programs, 79% responded, and 30% had experience with a night float system. The most frequent methods for initiating a night float system included: decreasing elective time (42.3%), hiring more residents (26.9%), creating a non-teaching service (12.5%), and reallocating housestaff time (9.6%). Positive effects cited include decreased fatigue, improved housestaff morale, improved recruiting, and better attitude toward internal medicine training. The quality of medical care was considered the same or better by most programs using it. The most commonly cited problems were decreased continuity of care, inadequate teaching of the night float team, and miscommunication.
Conclusion: Residency programs using a night float system usually observe a positive effect on housestaff morale, recruitment, and working hours and no detrimental effect on the quality of patient care. Miscommunication and inadequate learning experience for the night float team are important potential problems. This survey suggests that the night float represents one solution to reducing resident working hours.