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July 30, 2012

Reducing RN burnout could save lives, cut hospital spending

Daily Briefing

    Researchers have uncovered a link between nurses who are experiencing burnout and a higher rate of health care associated infections (HAIs), according to a study in the American Journal of Infection Control's August issue.

    University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing researchers studied data on more than 7,000 RNs from 161 Pennsylvania hospitals and compared burnout numbers with the rate of catheter-associated urinary tract infections (CAUTIs) and surgical site infections (SSIs)—two of the most common HAIs.

    Researchers found that more than one-third of studied nurses were experiencing burnout, based on their responses to the Maslach Burnout Inventory-Human Services Survey.

    By comparing CAUTI rates with patient loads, researchers deduced that adding just one extra patient to a nurse's average load of 5.7 patients may lead to one additional HAI per 1,000 patients. That could mean more than 1,300 additional HAIs per year if just the nurses in the study were each given an additional patient, the study says.

    CAUTIs can cost a hospital on average $749 to $832 per patient, and SSI costs can range from $11,087 to nearly $30,000 per patient. Researchers estimated that if the 161 Pennsylvania hospitals in the study could cut the number of nurses experiencing burnout from one-third down to 10%, they could save $41 million and prevent more than 4,000 infections in one year.

    Hospitals can improve nurse staffing and "other elements of the care environment and alleviate job-related burnout in nurses at a much lower cost than those associated with health care-associated infections," the study says.

    By reducing nurse burnout, "we can improve the well-being of nurses while improving the quality of patient care" (, 7/30; ScienceBlog, 7/30).

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