Nurses' physical, mental health connected to preventable medical errors

The Buckeye Paws program helps healthcare workers at Ohio State University’s Wexner Medical Center manage stressful situations. It is one of several resources offered to employees to help maintain their mental and physical health and prevent burnout. Photo credit: Ohio State University College of Nursing

A study conducted by the Ohio State University College of Nursing found that intensive care nurses with poor physical and mental health reported significantly more medical errors than nurses in better health.

The study, which was conducted prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, also found that “Nurses who realized that their job site is very beneficial to their wellbeing are twice as likely to have better physical health”.

The study results published today in the American Journal of Critical Care.

“It is vital that we understand some of the main causes that lead to these errors and do everything we can to prevent them,” said lead author Bernadette Melnyk. She is vice president of health promotion, chief wellness officer, and dean of the Ohio State College of Nursing.

The authors cited studies on the prevalence of stress, anxiety, depression and burnout symptoms in intensive care nurses as the basis for investigating the possible relationship between well-being and medical errors. The study interviewed nearly 800 members of the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses.

“It is clear that intensive care nurses, like so many other clinicians, cannot continue pouring out of an empty cup,” said Melnyk. “System problems that lead to burnout and poor health need to be addressed. Nurses need support and investment in evidence-based programs and resources that improve their wellbeing and provide them with resilience to optimally care for patients.”

A new study from the Ohio State University College of Nursing found that ICU nurses across the country were reporting alarming levels of stress, depressive symptoms, and anxiety even before the COVID-19 pandemic began. These factors correlated with an increase in self-reported medical errors. Photo credit: Ohio State University College of Nursing

The study results included:

  • Of the respondents, 61% reported sub-optimal physical health, while 51% reported sub-optimal mental health.
  • About 40% tested positive for depressive symptoms and more than 50% tested positive for anxiety.
  • Those who reported poorer health and wellbeing were 31% to 62% more likely to make medical mistakes.
  • Nurses who reported working in places that were more supportive of wellbeing were more than twice as likely to have better personal health and professional quality of life than nurses whose job offered little or no support.

Wexner Medical Center, Ohio, has several programs designed to promote the wellbeing of physicians, including the Employee Assistance Program, which provides confidential mental health resources and services such as counseling, mindfulness coaching, and the Stress, Trauma, and Resilience Program ( STAR), which offers the Horse Chestnut Paws Pet Therapy program to promote coping and resilience building.

Study: Nurses Physical and Mental Health Associated with Preventable Medical Errors

Jessica Curtisi works in the intensive care unit at Ohio State University’s Wexner Medical Center, caring for critically ill patients. She uses counseling and mindfulness resources offered to staff to maintain their sanity and care for their patients. Photo credit: Ohio State University College of Nursing

The authors mention that the levels of stress, anxiety, and depression in the current environment are likely even higher than they were before the pandemic, when the study was conducted.

“The most important impact of the results of this study for hospital managers and policy makers is that ICUs whose well-being is supported by their organizations are more likely to be fully involved in patient care and to make fewer medical errors, leading to better patient outcomes, more lives to be saved.” wrote the researchers.

Study: Nurses in New York City experienced anxiety and depression during Ohio State University’s first wave of COVID-19

Quote: Study: Nurses Physical and Mental Health Associated with Preventable Medical Errors (2021 May 1) was published on May 2, 2021 from health-medical.html

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