The impact of a regulation restricting medical house staff working hours on the quality of patient care

JAMA. 1993 Jan 20;269(3):374-8.


Objective: To examine the impact on patient care of a New York State regulation that restricted house staff working hours.

Design: Retrospective cohort study.

Setting: General medical service of an urban teaching hospital.

Patients: A total of 263 (94%) of 281 patients discharged from the study service during October 1988 and 263 (93%) of 283 patients discharged from the same service during October 1989.

Interventions: On July 1, 1989, New York State enacted a new regulation, Code 405, which limited residents' working hours and specified levels of supervision and ancillary support.

Main outcome measures: In-hospital mortality, transfers to intensive care units, cardiopulmonary resuscitation attempts, discharge disposition, length of stay, medical complications, and house staff delays in ordering tests and procedures.

Results: Although the cohorts were comparable in severity of illness measures, more patients in 1989 suffered at least one medical complication (91 [35%] vs 59 [22%]; P = .002) and experienced at least one diagnostic test delay because of house staff (44 [17%] vs 4 [2%]; P < .001). These significant differences persisted after controlling for potential confounders in multivariate analyses. However, we found no significant differences in more serious outcomes: in-hospital mortality, transfer to intensive care unit, discharge disposition, or length of stay.

Conclusion: These results suggest that restricted house staff working hours were associated with delayed test ordering by house staff and increased in-hospital complications. While these potentially deleterious effects on the quality of care did not result in statistically significant differences in more serious outcomes, further study at other hospitals is warranted to determine staffing strategies that optimize quality of care for patients, as well as medical education and quality of life for house officers.

MeSH terms

  • Cohort Studies
  • Confidence Intervals
  • Hospitals, University / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Hospitals, University / organization & administration
  • Hospitals, University / standards*
  • Humans
  • Internship and Residency / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Internship and Residency / statistics & numerical data
  • Multivariate Analysis
  • New York
  • Odds Ratio
  • Outcome and Process Assessment, Health Care / statistics & numerical data*
  • Personnel Staffing and Scheduling / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Personnel Staffing and Scheduling / standards
  • Quality of Health Care / statistics & numerical data
  • Regression Analysis
  • Retrospective Studies
  • State Government