Nurse burnout is an important contributor to medical errors

Michigan lawmakers are considering a bill that would limit nurse workloads over concerns for patient safety.

Lawmakers in Lansing are currently debating a bill that would place limits on how many hours nurses can work in a single shift and how many patients they can attend to per shift, according to the Ionia Sentinel-Standard. While there is no guarantee that the bill will ultimately become law, if it does it would be an important step to addressing the problem of burnout among nurses. A recent study found that mental health problems among nurses, including stress, anxiety, and depression, were a major contributing factor to overall medical errors in U.S. hospitals.

Nurse health tied to medical errors

The study by the Ohio State University's College of Nursing surveyed nurses through nursing organizations across the country and at 20 U.S. hospitals. The survey found that 54 percent of nurses said they were in poor physical and/or mental health and that approximately a third said they were suffering from depression, stress, or anxiety. Less than half of the respondents reported being satisfied with their professional quality of life.

The survey also asked nurses about their history of making medical errors and found that close to half of all respondents admitted to having made a medical error in the past five years. Poor mental health was an especially strong indicator of medical errors, with those suffering from depression being up to 71 percent more likely to make a medical mistake than nurses who were in good physical and mental health.

Placing limits on nursing workloads

The connection between nursing burnout and medical errors is why more states are looking at putting limits on nurses' workloads. A bill currently before lawmakers in Lansing would put a cap on how many patients nurses can attend to and would make it illegal for hospitals to force nurses to work shifts longer than 12 hours. The patient cap would vary based on which hospital unit nurses are working in.

While the bill has yet to become law, it does enjoy bipartisan support from state lawmakers. It is largely based on a 2004 California law that saw nurses in that state caring for one less patient on average than nurses in other states do. That law is credited with leading to a lower mortality rate among patients and higher job satisfaction rates among nurses.

Medical malpractice law

Medical professionals, from nurses to physicians, do make mistakes, unfortunately, and in some cases those mistakes can harm patients. Those who have been hurt by a medical professional's alleged negligence should contact a medical malpractice attorney today. An experienced attorney can help injured patients in their pursuit of justice, including by assisting them with filing claims for any financial compensation that they may be entitled to.