COLUMBUS, Ohio — Nurses batting mental health issues of their own are more likely to make medical errors on patients, a new study finds.
Researchers at Ohio State University looked at data collected through a survey conducted by the American Academy of Nursing, finding that a slight majority (54 percent) of nurses reported poor physical or mental health.
Such nurses were anywhere from 26 to 71 percent more likely to report errors on the job, with depression, in particular, being a key indicator of one’s propensity for committing mistakes.
“When you’re not in optimal health, you’re not going to be on top of your game,” explains lead author Bernadette Melnyk, dean of OSU’s College of Nursing and chief wellness officer for the university, in a news release. “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.”
This research supports the findings of other recent inquiries, which have identified burnout, fatigue, depression, and poor work-life balance as being major issues among health professionals.
Melnyk says that her study is the first to link the well-being of nurses to self-reported medical errors.
“Nurses do a great job of caring for other people, but they often don’t prioritize their own self-care,” she notes. “And their work lives are increasingly stressful— patients are sicker, hospitals are crunched financially, and nurses are having to find ways to juggle patient care with all of their other assigned tasks, such as tending to the electronic medical record.”
Hospitals can help nurses by limiting long shifts and providing easy-to-access health resources, such as depression screenings, Melnyk suggests.
These conditions, along with creating an environment in which the health of practitioners is prioritized, could go a long way in helping decrease medical errors.
Ultimately, since about half of nurses reported a recent medical error, we clearly need to rethink the health of those who treat our most urgent maladies.
The survey used for the study was offered to employees from 20 hospitals nationwide as well as nursing organizations. The average participant was found to be woman about 44 years old, the majority of whom were white. This falls in line with the common demographic of the country’s nursing population.
The study’s findings were published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine.