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Nurses burnout, make medical mistakes

Hospitals have a duty to protect their patients' best interest and health, but they often do so with a cost. With strains on the healthcare system, many New York hospitals have been cutting costs by reducing their nursing staff. Now studies show that overworked and exhausted nurses are more likely to cause medical error and injury to patients.

Though it might seem obvious that fewer caregivers provide poorer care, researchers argue the issue is not simply numbers, but a bad work environment. Reductions in staffing result in lack of teamwork and support, making it more difficult for nurses to act independently. This can also lead to built up stress and a level of detachment for nurses who cannot fully engage in what they are doing.

The study demonstrates why staffing matters and the extensive harm that can be done by understaffing. The data showed that nurse workload was directly linked to an increase in infections. According to the research, reducing the number of burned-out nurses could prevent a significant number of hospital-acquired infections. Hospitals are also failing to acknowledge that they are spending more money in the end, when they should be investing that money into nursing.

Nurse burnout is attributed to a cycle of exhaustion, cynicism and a "lack of civility" in the system. Many licensed nurses also feel a value conflict with employers if they believe that finances are trumping patient care. Hospital leaders should look to help nurses practice with dedication and at the top of their game, despite mandates and regulations that can reduce standards of patient care.

Improving the work environment for nurses can also prevent serious injury and wrongful death associated with negligence and malpractice.

Source: Philadelphia Post Inquirer, "Penn study examines link between nurse burnout, care," Don Sapatkin, July 30, 2012.

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