The tie between medical errors, daylight saving — and why Congress may end the time change

The future of daylight saving time hangs in the balance as lawmakers consider potential negative health effects associated with the time shift, while a past study indicates increased patient safety incidents related to the time shift.

In the days following the switch to daylight saving time, human mistakes tied to patient safety-related incidents increased by almost 20 percent, according to a study published in 2020 by the Journal of General Internal Medicine. Researchers analyzed data from Rochester, Minn.-based Mayo Clinic that occurred seven days before and after the spring and fall time changes for 2010-17. Patient safety-related incidents included defective systems, equipment failure or human error.  

Researchers didn't report significant differences in overall errors in the weeks before and after the time changes. However, when analyzing human error only, they found the number of human errors increased by a statistically significant 18.7 percent after daylight saving in the spring. Most errors involved medications, such as administering the wrong dose or wrong drug.

On March 9, 2022, a congressional panel discussed whether to end the policy, citing health effects related to changing the clock twice each year, as reported by The Washington Post.

On March 13, most Americans will "spring ahead" an hour, a seasonal shift enforced by the U.S. government and reversed Nov. 6. Now, more than 40 states are considering ending the shift, with Arizona and Hawaii already officially adopting permanent standard time. Federal lawmakers are considering legislation that could make daylight saving time permanent.

The American Academy of Sleep Medicine has pushed for an end to the shift. Experts at the March 9 hearing, convened by the House Energy and Commerce Committee's subcommittee on consumer protection, said the time shift hurts sleep, is linked to cardiac problems, and presents other health and public safety risks.

"There is clear evidence that going back and forth not only affects adults with [more] heart attacks and strokes but also affects our kids, particularly with teen sleep deprivation," said Beth Ann Malow, MD, neurologist and director of Nashville, Tenn.-based Vanderbilt University Medical Center's sleep division.

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