Many Pennsylvania residents who have a doctor, nurse, or medical student in their families are aware of the long hours and exhausting shifts that healthcare providers endure. Once taken as just a part of the job, there is growing awareness that overworked and under-slept staff at hospitals has real consequences for patients, leading to reforms within the medical community.

While consecutive shifts have been limited and hours worked per week have been limited, hospitals are still trying to trim budgets and keep costs down, leading to lower staffing levels and a higher workload for existing staff. However, a new study from the University of Pennsylvania indicates that in addition to lower budgets, smaller staffs are also leading to more avoidable patient injuries. Hospital infections are specifically linked to overworked nurses who are exhausted or distracted and forget to wash their hands.

Hospital infections can be very dangerous and cause serious injuries and wrongful deaths and under-staffing could be considered hospital malpractice.

This study is the first to closely examine the link between burned out nurses and patient injuries. Researchers found that Pennsylvania hospitals could prevent about 4,160 hospital infection cases each year through reducing nurse burnout. This would save an estimated $41 million spent in treating and responding to hospital-acquired infections.

A spokesperson from the American Nurses Association says that the study validates what nurses have been telling hospitals for many years, and that she hopes that publication of this information helps to focus hospitals on legitimate patient safety concerns.

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