First-year hospital residents who have just graduated medical school will now be able to work 28-hours during a shift. The possible length of a shift was previously capped at 16-hours.

The new time limit, which will go into effect on July 1st, was set by the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education last Friday. The organization says the increase in shift length will reduce the number of problematic patient handoffs. This is when one doctor hands off a patient in the midst care to another doctor when their shift is over. Accreditation officials say this practice can be confusing and disruptive for both patients and doctors.

Art Caplan, a medical ethicist and director of the Division of Medical Ethics at NYU Langone Medical Center, was troubled by the increase in the shift cap and the issues that could be caused by sleep deprivation.  

“Lack of sleep produces errors,” Caplan told Boston Public Radio Tuesday. “The science says that this isn’t a good idea. The evidence says that people do slip in performance."

While Caplan recognized the problems that can occur because of handoffs, he believes that the Accreditation Council should focus on smoothing out this practice instead of having doctors potentially work for 28-hours straight.

“There is always some room for error when you do that handoff. It is a little bit like a relay race when you are passing a baton... but I think we should handle them with better record keeping and better patterns, and put these people back to sleep a little bit,” Caplan said.

Listen to our interview with medical ethicist Art Caplan above.