Shorter Versus Longer Shift Durations to Mitigate Fatigue and Fatigue-Related Risks in Emergency Medical Services Personnel and Related Shift Workers: A Systematic Review

<p><b>Background</b>: This study comprehensively reviewed the literature on the impact of shorter versus longer shifts on critical and important outcomes for Emergency Medical Services (EMS) personnel and related shift worker groups. <b>Methods</b>: Six databases (e.g., PubMed/MEDLINE) were searched, including one website. This search was guided by a research question developed by an expert panel <i>a priori</i> and registered with the PROSPERO database of systematic reviews (2016:CRD42016040099). The critical outcomes of interest were patient safety and personnel safety. The important outcomes of interest were personnel performance, acute fatigue, sleep and sleep quality, retention/turnover, long-term health, burnout/stress, and cost to system. Screeners worked independently and full-text articles were assessed for relevance. Data abstracted from the retained literature were categorized as favorable, unfavorable, mixed/inconclusive, or no impact toward the shorter shift duration. This research characterized the evidence as very low, low, moderate, or high quality according to the Grading of Recommendations, Assessment, Development, and Evaluation (GRADE) methodology. <b>Results</b>: The searched yielded <i>n</i> = 21,674 records. Of the 480 full-text articles reviewed, 100 reported comparisons of outcomes of interest by shift duration. We identified 24 different shift duration comparisons, most commonly 8 hours versus 12 hours. No one study reported findings for all 9 outcomes. Two studies reported findings linked to both critical outcomes of patient and personnel safety, 34 reported findings for one of two critical outcomes, and 64 did not report findings for critical outcomes. Fifteen studies were grouped to compare shifts <24 hours versus shifts ≥24 hours. None of the findings for the critical outcomes of patient and personnel safety were categorized as unfavorable toward shorter duration shifts (<24 hours). Nine studies were favorable toward shifts <24 hours for at least one of the 7 important outcomes, while findings from one study were categorized as unfavorable. Evidence quality was low or very low. <b>Conclusions</b>: The quality of existing evidence on the impact of shift duration on fatigue and fatigue-related risks is low or very low. Despite these limitations, this systematic review suggests that for outcomes considered critical or important to EMS personnel, shifts <24 hours in duration are more favorable than shifts ≥24 hours. <b>Key words</b>: Shift duration; fatigue; safety; EMS</p>