First-year medical residents will be permitted to work as long as 24 hours straight under a new rule approved by the organization that oversees accreditation for medical schools across the country.

Sixteen-hour shifts were the previous maximum permitted for first-year doctors in training, but the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME) says that permitting longer shifts will allow for more continuity of care. The organization says it hopes to avoid confusion and disruption with the new rule because it will sync first-year residents’ schedules with other residents, who are already permitted to work 24-hour shifts.

The change comes just six years after the ACGME imposed the 16-hour limit on the least experienced doctors, in hopes of improving patient care. But the organization said it found that the 16-hour limit was actually disrupting patient care.

The new rule, which goes into effect in July, was adopted over the objections of several advocacy groups which say no residents should be working for 24 hours straight. Disruptions in patient care should be reduced by improving shift-change procedures, not making shifts longer.

“Medical residents are not superhuman and, when sleep-deprived, put themselves, their patients and others in harm’s way,” said Dr. Michael Carome, director of Public Citizen’s Health Research Group.

Public Citizen also criticized the ACGME for not systematically enforcing any of its work-hour requirements, and said that studies show high rates of falsification of reported hours by residents.

“With virtually no enforcement, residents and their programs will continue to violate even these new, laxer work-hour standards,” the group said in a news release.

Concerns about residents work hours first came to the forefront in 1984, when an 18-year-old girl admitted to New York Hospital died from a mysterious infection under the care of residents who had worked nearly 24 hours straight. Unsurprisingly, numerous studies since then have shown that doctors tend to make more medical errors when sleep-deprived.

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