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Adding a Patient to Nurse Workloads Increases Infections, Study Finds

Cranwell & Moore P.L.C. Feb. 14, 2023

A new study published in the American Journal of Infection Control found that adding just one patient to a nurse’s already heavy workload adds one hospital-acquired infection to every 1,000 patients admitted to the facility.

Study Finds Burnout Plays a Large Role in Patient Safety

Researchers at the Center for Health Outcomes and Policy Research at the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing conducted the study. They analyzed surveys of over 7,000 registered nurses at over 160 Pennsylvania hospitals, then merged this information with data on hospital infections compiled by the Pennsylvania Health Care Cost Containment Council as well as national data.

The researchers found that one-third of the surveyed nurses experienced high levels of burnout, determined by their self-reported levels of emotional exhaustion, depersonalization of patients and sense of their own personal accomplishment.

For each 10 percent jump in the number of nurses who reported high burnout levels, about one new catheter-associated urinary tract infection and two extra surgical site infections occurred per 1,000 patients.

The nurses experiencing high levels of burnout averaged about 5.7 patients each. When just one extra patient was added to their workloads, there were an additional 1,351 infections reported in the hospital population in the study. This numbers have serious implications for patient health and safety.

Fortunately, the study also found that reducing nurse burnout reduces the number of hospital-acquired infections. This means that if hospitals hire more nursing staff to reduce workloads and long shifts and do more to curtail the negative emotional impact of the high-risk environment in which nurses work, hospital-acquired infections may go down, benefitting patients.

Nurse Burnout Affects Patient Care

When nurses are overworked and serve long shifts or double shifts, they may miss important changes in patients’ conditions that may indicate a serious infection or other complication. This could lead to serious injury or death for patients and medical malpractice lawsuits for the hospital.

Hospitals are required to hire an adequate number of staff to accommodate their patients. This includes making sure a sufficient number of nurses are on duty at all times. If hospitals fail to staff enough nurses and patients are injured as a result of the shortage, the hospital may be held liable for the patients’ injuries.

Additionally, nurses themselves can also be held liable for the injuries their negligence causes. For example, a nurse who fails to provide an established standard of care to a patient can be held liable for any injuries this deviation causes.

Hospitals should take action to reduce nurse burnout, since the condition has negative implications for patient health and safety. If you or a loved one has been injured and believe a lack of nursing staff may be to blame, contact an experienced personal injury attorney.