BACKGROUND Concern persists that extended shifts in medical residency programs may adversely affect patient safety. METHODS We conducted a cluster-randomized noninferiority trial in 63 internal-medicine residency programs during the 2015-2016 academic year. Programs underwent randomization to a group with standard duty hours, as adopted by the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME) in July 2011, or to a group with more flexible duty-hour rules that did not specify limits on shift length or mandatory time off between shifts. The primary outcome for each program was the change in unadjusted 30-day mortality from the pretrial year to the trial year, as ascertained from Medicare claims. We hypothesized that the change in 30-day mortality in the flexible programs would not be worse than the change in the standard programs (difference-in-difference analysis) by more than 1 percentage point (noninferiority margin). Secondary outcomes were changes in five other patient safety measures and risk-adjusted outcomes for all measures. RESULTS The change in 30-day mortality (primary outcome) among the patients in the flexible programs (12.5% in the trial year vs. 12.6% in the pretrial year) was noninferior to that in the standard programs (12.2% in the trial year vs. 12.7% in the pretrial year). The test for noninferiority was significant (P=0.03), with an estimate of the upper limit of the one-sided 95% confidence interval (0.93%) for a between-group difference in the change in mortality that was less than the prespecified noninferiority margin of 1 percentage point. Differences in changes between the flexible programs and the standard programs in the unadjusted rate of readmission at 7 days, patient safety indicators, and Medicare payments were also below 1 percentage point; the noninferiority criterion was not met for 30-day readmissions or prolonged length of hospital stay. Risk-adjusted measures generally showed similar findings. CONCLUSIONS Allowing program directors flexibility in adjusting duty-hour schedules for trainees did not adversely affect 30-day mortality or several other measured outcomes of patient safety.
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