Nurse Burnout Linked to Higher Rates of Patient Infections

nurse%20syringe.jpgHigh nurse fatigue and stress is one of the reasons why these medical personnel have higher rates of burnout. Burnout affects not just the health of the nurses, but also patient safety and health. New research recently published in the American Journal of Infection Control indicates that nurse burnout is linked to a much higher risk of patient infections.

More than 7,000 nurses were analyzed as part of the research conducted by the University Of Pennsylvania School of Nursing’s Center for Health Outcomes and Policy Research. The researchers found that when additional patients were added to a nurse’s workload, it increased the risk of patient infections per 1,000 patients.

When a nurse’s workload increased by one patient, it corresponded with an increase of roughly one hospital-acquired infection per 1,000 patients. On an average, each nurse cares for about 5.7 patients. When even one patient is added to that load, it leads to approximately 1,351 infections among the patients in the hospital.

The research also found that more than one third of the nurses in the survey reported high levels of stress, fatigue and job-related burnout.

Those high rates of burnout are not really difficult for an Indiana medical malpractice attorney to understand. Nurses see continual cycles of life, suffering and death in the hospital. A typical shift can mean caring for several patients, all in varying stages of poor health. For many nurses, it is also hard to distance themselves from feelings of failure when a person succumbs to the illness. Feelings of failure may lead to depression, and few hospitals provide the kind of support that nurses may require to deal with such feelings.

Additionally, nurses have some of the most physically demanding jobs in the hospital, and are frequently on their feet. A shortage of skilled nurses at many of the country’s top hospitals and health facilities has meant a greater demand for nurses, and extra pressure on the nurses already working in the hospital.Those appalling working conditions for nurses increases burnout levels, and as this new research shows, may actually be a major patient safety hazard too.

Many of these infections are potentially life-threatening. For instance, a person with cancer who suffers even a mild urinary tract infection could be at a much higher risk of life threatening complications as a result of the infection. Additionally, surgical site infections can also set in.
When nurses are stressed, and feel that they’re not getting enough support, they are at a higher risk of medical errors. Some of the most common errors that a nurse makes when she is overworked is the abandonment of sterility procedures. Such abandonment of sterility procedures can be deadly if it occurs in an ICU, where the importance of sterile procedures is paramount. Such errors can lead to potentially fatal infections, like central line-associated bloodstream infections.