Nurse Fatigue Can Lead to Infected Patients

(US Politics Today) A recent study by the Center for Health Outcomes and Policy Research at the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing proves something that nurse labor advocates and medical watchdog groups have been saying for some time: upping the number of patients each nurse is responsible for each shift has a direct corollary in rates of patient infections, injuries and deaths. That same study revealed that when nurses reported on-the-job “burnout,” there were patient consequences in the form of additional urinary catheter and surgical site infections. 

What Is “Burnout?”

The study uses a well-established scale to determine whether nurses are suffering from burnout. The Maslach Burnout Inventory test is a clinically proven scientific method to determine the otherwise difficult to quantify quality of burnout. Burnout is, in essence, a determination of deep job dissatisfaction. The MBI test itself measures three personality aspects that indicate burnout:

– Emotional exhaustion – a feeling that a job is draining emotionally and requires an overly high level of emotional attachment

– Depersonalization – an inability to engage in one’s work on a gut level; not being able to care about one’s standard of performance as it affects other people

– Personal accomplishment – a low level of satisfaction with the efforts of one’s work, the achievements reached in one’s career and the competence one has in performing the work

How Does Burnout Affect Patients?

Those nurses surveyed for this study were overwhelmingly found to be dealing with burnout-related issues, and that was when they were carrying a steady patient load of an average of 5.7 patients per shift. When that number was increased by one patient per nurse, the result was a whopping 1,351 additional infections in the pool of case files – more than 7,000 nurses working in 161 hospitals around the state of Pennsylvania – reviewed for the study.

The numbers are both frightening and somewhat expected; nursing labor organizations have long argued that keeping patient loads steady saves lives. This study is black and white proof that staffing levels and hospital restructuring can have a disparate impact on patient safety. In fact, a 2002 study found that adding a single patient to a nurse’s caseload upped the risk of having one die within a week of receiving treatment by seven percent. Even more startling is the fact that a nurse treating eight patients at a time was 31 percent more likely to have a patient die than one treating four patients.

Cost-cutting measures that reduce nurse staffing levels and increase the number of patients each nurse is responsible for can be deadly. When nurses – those people on the “front line” of patient care – are overburdened and underappreciated, patients suffer, and some of them pay the ultimate price. If you have been hurt by the negligence of a caregiver or facility, consider seeking the advice of a skilled medical malpractice attorney in your area; it may be possible to seek compensation for the harm you have suffered.