Stressed, Burned-Out Nurses Make More Medical Errors: Study

MONDAY, May 3, 2021 (HealthDay News) — Critical care nurses with poor mental and physical health are more likely to make mistakes, but a more supportive work environment could improve the situation, a new study suggests.

“It’s critically important that we understand some of the root causes that lead to those errors and do everything we can to prevent them,” said lead author Bernadette Melnyk, dean of the College of Nursing at Ohio State University.

For the study, researchers surveyed nearly 800 members of the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses. Sixty-one percent of respondents reported subpar physical health and 51% reported subpar mental health.

About 40% of the nurses screened positive for depressive symptoms and more than half for anxiety.

Those who reported worse health and well-being were between 31% and 62% more likely to make medical errors.

Nurses who said their employer provided greater support for well-being were more than twice as likely to have better personal health and professional quality of life than those whose workplace provided little or no support.

The findings were published May 1 in the American Journal of Critical Care.

“It’s clear that critical care nurses, like so many other clinicians, cannot continue to pour from an empty cup,” Melnyk said in a university news release.

“System problems that contribute to burnout and poor health need to be fixed,” she said. “Nurses need support and investment in evidence-based programming and resources that enhance their well-being and equip them with resiliency so they can take optimal care of patients.”

Researchers noted that the study was conducted before the COVID-19 pandemic, so it’s likely that levels of stress, anxiety and depression among critical care nurses are even higher now.

“The major implication of this study’s findings for hospital leaders and policy makers is that critical care nurses whose well-being is supported by their organizations are more likely to be fully engaged in patient care and make fewer medical errors, resulting in better patient outcomes and more lives saved,” the authors wrote.

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more on health care workers and stress during the COVID-19 pandemic.

SOURCE: Ohio State University, news release, May 1, 2021