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Nurse fatigue raises risk of medical errors

Written by Ankin Law Office

Few Illinois workers have the potential to make fatal errors when they become fatigued while on the job. An Illinois medical malpractice lawyer likely knows that nurses are chief among workers with this potential. Like many other healthcare workers, nurses are particularly susceptible to causing severe medical errors due to the nature of their employment. When patient lives rest in the hands of nurses who are extremely fatigued after long shifts and overtime, the likelihood that they will make fatal medical errors only increases.

Shiftwork

Nurses commonly work 12 or more hours per shift and may be at the hospital for three or more shifts a week. While this may seem ideal initially, changes in shift length are frequent and unpredictable due to patient needs and last minute staffing changes. Nurses often work their entire 12 hour shift only to be asked to stay on for a few additional hours in order to maintain adequate staffing levels for patient care. Alternating day and night shifts and consecutive shifts that require overtime also contribute to nurse fatigue.

Effects of fatigue

A study found in the medical journal Health Affairs outlines just how easily nurse fatigue can cause medical mistakes. Researchers examined the behavior of 393 nurses over more than 5,300 shifts. They found that when nurses worked 12 ½ hour shifts or longer, they were three times more likely to cause a medical error. An additional study found in the American Journal of Critical Care reports that nurses who are fatigued are much more likely to regret one or more medical decision that they make while fatigued. Unfortunately, an Illinois medical malpractice lawyer often sees the effects of the mistakes these exhausted nurses make.

Confronting the problem

The American Nurses Association is attempting to reduce the risks of nurse fatigue by combating the problem at its source. It recently released a policy that it believes, if properly implemented, will help hospitals reduce nurse fatigue and stop many medical errors from occurring in the process. The new policy includes the following recommendations:

  • Limit shifts to no more than 12 hours and workweeks to no more than 40 hours.
  • When nurses work both days and nights, minimize consecutive night shifts.
  • Eliminate mandatory overtime for all nurses.
  • Allow nurses the ability to refuse work assignments to prevent fatigue.
  • Provide transportation or sleep rooms for nurses who are too tired to safely drive home following a shift.

In return, the ANA states that nurses must be willing to do what it takes to come to work well-rested and take appropriate breaks during their shifts.

Those who have been injured due to the medical mistakes of a nurse should contact an Illinois medical malpractice lawyer for a claim evaluation. With an attorney’s help, many individuals may be able to successfully seek compensation for the damages that they sustained when medical errors occurred.

Categories: Medical Malpractice