study patient care strongly affected by nurse burnout

There is little doubt that nurses working in the often chaotic setting of a hospital are under a great deal of stress, forced to manage large patient loads, complex medical conditions and shortened patient stays. Compounding this stress is the fact that many hospitals here in Pennsylvania and across the United States have cut staff in attempt to save money, leaving nurses with more work and at a greater risk of suffering burnout and committing medical malpractice.

Interestingly, a group of researchers from the University of Pennsylvania recently published a study in the American Journal of Infection Control examining how staffing and burnout can affect patient safety.

Specifically, the researchers analyzed infection data submitted by 161 acute-care hospitals that they are otherwise required by law to report to the Pennsylvania Health Care Cost Containment Council. They then proceeded to connect this data to staffing information provided by hospitals to their national association and a questionnaire examining burnout completed by 7,076 nurses at these same hospitals.

They made the following discoveries:

  • The rate of catheter-related urinary tract infections was 8.6 for every 1,000 patients. If just one patient was added to a nurse’s workload — an average of 5.7 patients — this increased the rate of catheter-related urinary tract infections by one per 1,000 patients. Surgical site infections were determined to increase at a similar rate.
  • If the percentage of burnt-out nurses in a hospital increased by 10 percent, the rate of catheter-related urinary tract infections increased by roughly the same amount as the addition of one patient to a nurse’s workload. However, a 10 percent increase in the rate of burnt-out nurses increased surgical site infections by over 50 percent to more than 6 infections per infections 1,000 patients.

The researchers ultimately determined that burnout appears to be more of a destructive force among nurses than larger workloads, and that if hospitals would take steps to lower the average nurse burn out rate from 30 percent to 10 percent, they could prevent 4,160 of the above-mentioned infections and save $41 million.

Breaking the cycle of exhaustion and cynicism hinges on remedying bad management and improving the overall organizational climate, which may include instituting staffing ratios.

It’s important to remember that if you or a loved one has been harmed by medical malpractice or a nursing error that you do have options.

Source: The Philadelphia Inquirer, “Penn study examines link between nurse burnout, care,” Don Sapatkin, July 31, 2012

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