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Could Long Nursing Shifts Impact Your Care?

Nurses traditionally work shifts in excess of twelve hours. However, research continues to suggest that these long shifts are not good for nurses or their patients. In fact, studies suggest that the resulting “burn out” could not only impact nurses’ job satisfaction, but could lead to medical errors.

As Science Daily reported, researchers in one study found that nurses who worked more than ten hours at a time were up to two and a half times more likely to suffer from burnout and job dissatisfaction, as compared with peers working shorter shifts. In addition, seven out of ten patient outcomes were significantly and adversely affected by the longest shifts.

In hospitals with a large portion of nurses working longer shifts, the researchers noted higher percentages of patients reporting that nurses sometimes or never communicated well, pain was sometimes or never well controlled, and they sometimes or never received help as soon as they wanted.

“Traditional eight-hour shifts for hospital nurses are becoming a thing of the past. Bedside nurses increasingly work twelve-hour shifts…When long shifts are combined with overtime, shifts that rotate between day and night duty, and consecutive shifts, nurses are at risk for fatigue and burnout, which may compromise patient care," said Amy Witkoski Stimpfel, PhD, RN, a post-doctoral fellow at the Center for Health Outcomes and Policy Research at Penn Nursing.

Additional studies confirm that longer shift length increases the risk of medical errors and close calls. Researchers in Australia found that there is a 3.4 percent chance of an error occurring when nurses obtain six hours or less of sleep during a 24-hour period. While the risk may seem low, it is compounded when the majority of nurses at a particular facility are burned out.

As Bette McNee, health and human services technical specialist with The Graham Company, a healthcare consulting firm, noted to ACH Media: “If an average teaching hospital has 1,000 nursing shifts per day, this error percentage equals 34 daily errors. Over a year, that’s more than 12,000 patients whose care is at risk because nurses aren’t getting adequate sleep.”

Unfortunately, medical errors among nurses have climbed steadily over the past several years. Factors such as nursing shortages, a rise in temporary workers, and longer hours may all play a part in the rise in nursing medical errors.

If you or someone you care about has suffered serious harm due to a nursing error or other serious medical mistake, you may be entitled to compensation. For more information, please contact a San Diego medical malpractice attorney at the Law Offices of Robert Vaage for a free consultation.