Can Nurse Burnout Cause Medical Errors?

Being a nurse is a demanding job, usually held by people with a deep and sincere desire to help others.  The excessive demands can lead to palpable stress.  Unfortunately, the stress can be counterproductive in their call to care for patients by causing nurses to make serious medical errors.

A study published in October in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine looked at this issue and found a direct correlation between burned-out nurses and medical mistakes.  Researchers conducted surveys with 1,790 nurses in the United States to not only identify the state of nurses’ mental wellbeing, but also determine if poor mental health could lead to mistakes that harm patients.

Over Half of Nurses Found with Physical and Mental Health Issues

More than half of the nurses surveyed reported physical and mental health issues.  Nearly one-third said they suffered from depression, anxiety or stress.  At the same time, half of the nurses in the survey said they had made medical errors within the last five years, establishing a link between healthcare mistakes and nurses’ mental and physical states, according to the researchers.

In fact, nurses reporting burnout or some physical problems were much more likely to make a mistake in care, ranging anywhere from 26 percent to 71 percent more likely compared to those in good health.

Depression Leads to Medical Errors

Other research has found that registered nurses are at risk for mental health concerns.  One study released a year prior to this new effort found that nurses suffer from depression nearly twice as much as other professionals.  And depression was determined as the chief predictor of medical errors made by nurses.

Dangerous demands of the healthcare profession are not limited to nurses.  Studies have shown physician burnout rates as high as 50 percent, and that depression leads to decreased patient satisfaction and an increase in medical errors made by doctors.

Serious medical errors, like wrong-site surgery and misdiagnosis, are made by individuals but they can be a byproduct of a poor organizational culture; one that does not do enough to protect patients from avoidable harm as well as protecting nurses and doctors from dangerous job-related stress.

Therefore, both healthcare providers and their employers may be responsible when patients are seriously hurt by mistakes in treatment and care.

If you lost a loved one or you suffered severe physical harm from what may have been a preventable medical error, a medical malpractice lawyer can investigate on your behalf.

The choice of a lawyer is an important decision that should not be based solely on advertisements.

Authored by Gray, Ritter & Graham, P.C., posted in Blog December 8, 2017