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Maryland Study: Nurses' Long Hours Linked to Risks to Patients

Medical malpractice can have terrible consequences for a patient. While many medical mistakes can be reversed, many medical errors result in permanent injury or death. There are many types of medical malpractice and medical malpractice has many causes including physician errors, surgical errors, and medication errors. Often times, medication result from mistakes made by hospital workers who are fatigued.

While the medical profession has taken steps to limit the number of hours a physician in training can work, the same cannot be said for nurses. A recent study by the University of Maryland School of Nursing and The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore has found that patients in hospitals where nurses work long hours are much more likely to die from pneumonia and heart attack. The researchers found that the patient mortality was most frequently related to long work hours and lack of time off the job.

The study, which will be published in the January-February issue of the journal Nursing Research, found that most U.S. hospitals use 12-hour shifts for nurses. This began in the 1980s amid a nationwide shortage of nurses. Additionally, the 12-hour shift affects both the quality and duration of nurses' sleep and this affects the alertness and vigilance that are so necessary to prevent medical mistakes.

"Although many nurses like these schedules because of the compressed nature of the work week, the long schedule, as well as shift work in general, leads to sleep deprivation," said Alison Trinkoff, a professor at the University of Maryland School of Nursing and co-author of the study. Trinkoff added, "The finding that work schedule can impact patient outcomes is important and should lead to further study and examination of nursing work schedules."

Sources:

Bloomberg Businessweek, "Nurses' Long Shifts May Put Hospital Patients at Risk: Study," Robert Preidt, 1/19/2011

Infection Control Today, "Nurses' Long Work Hours, Scheduling Can Increase Patient Mortality," 1/17/2011

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