Depressed Nurses More Likely to Make Medical Errors

Nurses who report poor health, and specifically depression, are more likely to make medical errors, according to recent information published by the Ohio State University.

These findings were the result of a large-scale study conducted to compare nurses’ health status with the incidence of medical errors. The study used data from a survey conducted by the American Academy of Nursing, in which 1,790 nurses responded to 53 questions. The analysis found that over half of the nurses (54%) reported physical or mental health problems and that about one in three disclosed that they suffered to a greater or lesser extent from depression, anxiety or stress.

On comparing self-reported wellness with information provided on medical errors, there was a significant link between poor health, especially depression, and medical errors. Another significant finding of the study was that those nurses who felt that their workplace promoted wellness were also more likely to report better health.

hospital nurses are twice as likely as the general population to experience clinical depression

The link between depression and medical errors becomes even more perturbing when one considers that hospital nurses are twice as likely as the general population to experience clinical depression, according to a survey of 1171 nurses published in 2012. This study, sponsored by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Interdisciplinary Nursing Quality Research Initiative (INQRI), found that 18%, or nearly one in five, nurses reported symptoms of depression. This study also found significant relationships between depression and body mass index, job satisfaction, number of health problems, mental well-being, and health-related productivity.

The high incidence of depression among nurses and its reported link with medical errors has significant implications for workplace managers if they want to ensure continued patient safety and quality of care. “Nurses do a great job of caring for other people, but they often don’t prioritize their own self-care,” said Bernadette Melnyk, lead author of the OSU study and also Dean of the university’s College of Nursing. “Hospital administrators should build a culture of well-being and implement strategies to better support good physical and mental health in their employees. It’s good for nurses, and it’s good for their patients.” Two of the wellness strategies highlighted by Melnyk were limiting long shifts and providing staff with easy to access wellness resources, including online screening for depression.

“Nurses do a great job of caring for other people, but they often don’t prioritize their own self-care”

Focus on clinician well-being has also caught the attention of The National Academy of Medicine, which sees it as a national priority. The organization recently launched a collaborative action on clinician well-being and resilience. “Clinician burnout can have serious, wide-ranging consequences, from reduced job performance and high turnover rates to—in the most extreme cases—medical error and clinician suicide. On the other hand, clinician well-being supports improved patient-clinician relationships, a high-functioning care team, and an engaged and effective workforce.” Employee wellness is a win-win situation for the organization, the health workforce as well as clients.

Frieda Paton is a registered nurse with a Master’s degree in nursing education. Her passion for nursing education, nursing issues and advocacy for the profession were ignited while she worked as an education officer, and later editor, at a national nurses’ association. This passion, together with interest in health and wellness education since her student days, stayed with her throughout her further career as a nurse educator and occupational health nurse. Having reached retirement age, she continues to contribute to the profession as a full-time freelance writer. In the news and feature articles she writes for Nurseslabs, she hopes to inspire nursing students and nurses on the job to reflect on the trends and issues that affect their profession and communities - and play their part in advocacy wherever they find themselves.

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