Background: Concerns persist regarding the effect of current surgical resident duty-hour policies on patient outcomes, resident education, and resident well-being.
Methods: We conducted a national, cluster-randomized, pragmatic, noninferiority trial involving 117 general surgery residency programs in the United States (2014-2015 academic year). Programs were randomly assigned to current Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME) duty-hour policies (standard-policy group) or more flexible policies that waived rules on maximum shift lengths and time off between shifts (flexible-policy group). Outcomes included the 30-day rate of postoperative death or serious complications (primary outcome), other postoperative complications, and resident perceptions and satisfaction regarding their well-being, education, and patient care.
Results: In an analysis of data from 138,691 patients, flexible, less-restrictive duty-hour policies were not associated with an increased rate of death or serious complications (9.1% in the flexible-policy group and 9.0% in the standard-policy group, P=0.92; unadjusted odds ratio for the flexible-policy group, 0.96; 92% confidence interval, 0.87 to 1.06; P=0.44; noninferiority criteria satisfied) or of any secondary postoperative outcomes studied. Among 4330 residents, those in programs assigned to flexible policies did not report significantly greater dissatisfaction with overall education quality (11.0% in the flexible-policy group and 10.7% in the standard-policy group, P=0.86) or well-being (14.9% and 12.0%, respectively; P=0.10). Residents under flexible policies were less likely than those under standard policies to perceive negative effects of duty-hour policies on multiple aspects of patient safety, continuity of care, professionalism, and resident education but were more likely to perceive negative effects on personal activities. There were no significant differences between study groups in resident-reported perception of the effect of fatigue on personal or patient safety. Residents in the flexible-policy group were less likely than those in the standard-policy group to report leaving during an operation (7.0% vs. 13.2%, P<0.001) or handing off active patient issues (32.0% vs. 46.3%, P<0.001).
Conclusions: As compared with standard duty-hour policies, flexible, less-restrictive duty-hour policies for surgical residents were associated with noninferior patient outcomes and no significant difference in residents' satisfaction with overall well-being and education quality. (FIRST ClinicalTrials.gov number, NCT02050789.).