Study Links Nurse Burnout to Increased Risk of Infection

Heavy patient loads and burnout have long been an unfortunate reality for nurses at hospitals nationwide. However, a new study from the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing concluded that these problems can affect patient health by causing an increased risk of  infection.

The study surveyed 7,000 registered nurses working in 161 hospitals in Pennsylvania. The nurses were asked questions designed to track factors such as emotional exhaustion, depersonalization and whether he or she felt a sense of personal accomplishment from the work. The study found that almost one-third of nurses exhibited high levels of job burnout.

The study also found that each nurse cared for an average of 5.7 patients each. When one additional patient was added to the load, there was an additional infection per every 1,000 patients. The study hypothesized that overworked and burned out nurses may become distracted and forget to wash their hands regularly or take other routine hygienic measures.

Nationwide, there is no system that tracks nurse-to-patient ratios. Patient loads vary from as low as one nurse for every two patients in intensive care units to much higher-such as the five or six patients per nurse that the participants had in this study.

In addition to the higher likelihood of infection, nurse burnout has a financial cost. The study found that the average cost of treating a catheter infection ranged from $742 to $832. More serious infections such as surgical site infections cost significantly more, ranging from $11,087 to $29,443. If nurse burnout could be decreased by as little as 10 percent, the study projected that it would lead to a significant decrease in infections and save $41 million per year.

Like their colleagues nationwide, nurses in Kentucky are not immune to the problems caused by short staffing and the demands of their job. Because of their level of interaction with the patient, any  nursing error, regardless of the reason, can be catastrophic.

Under Kentucky law, nurses, like all other medical professionals, must provide care that meets a certain minimum standard of care. If a nurse fails to do this, it can constitute negligence, making the nurse and the hospital potentially liable for the patient’s injury or death. If you or a loved one has been injured because of a nursing error, contact an experienced medical malpractice attorney, who can work to protect your right to compensation.