Reducing Nurse Burnout to Improve Patient Care

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When nurses are happier and healthier, their patients have better medical outcomes. So it makes sense that the opposite is true as well — that unhappy, burned-out nurses have patients who are at higher risk for health-care associated infection rates. Burned-out nurses thus can cost hospitals millions of dollars annually.

A recent study summarized by Nurse.com here confirms that burnout and overstaffing does in fact lead to more health-care associated infection rates, thereby costing hospitals millions of dollars annually.

Researchers reported in the American Journal of Infection Control that each additional patient assigned to a nurse correlated with roughly one additional infection per 1,000 patients.

Data on nurse burnout came from a 2006 survey of 7,076 RNs. In that survey, more than a third of respondents tallied an emotional exhaustion score of 27 or greater on the Maslach Burnout Inventory-Human Services Survey, thus meeting the MBI-HSS definition for healthcare personnel burnout.

Each 10% increase in a hospital’s high-burnout nurses corresponded with nearly one additional CAUTI and two additional SSIs per 1,000 patients annually (the average rates across hospitals were nine CAUTIs and five SSIs per 1,000 patients). The data regarding infections came from the Pennsylvania Health Care Cost Containment Council.

Using the per-patient average costs associated with CAUTIs ($749 to $832 each) and SSIs ($11,087 to $29,443 each), researchers estimated that if nursing burnout rates were reduced to 10%, Pennsylvania hospitals could prevent an estimated 4,160 infections and save $41 million annually.

“Healthcare facilities can improve nurse staffing and other elements of the care environment and alleviate job-related burnout in nurses at a much lower cost than those associated with healthcare-associated infections,” wrote the researchers, who are affiliated with the Center for Health Outcomes and Policy Research at the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing.

“By reducing nurse burnout, we can improve the well-being of nurses while improving the quality of patient care.”

“Nurse staffing, burnout and healthcare-associated infection,” by Jeannie P. Cimiotti, RN, DNSc, Linda H. Aiken, PhD, Douglas M. Sloane, PhD, and Evan S. Wu, BS, appears in the August issue of the American Journal of Infection Control.

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