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Depressed Nurses Make More Medical Errors

News  |  By Alexandra Wilson Pecci  
   October 25, 2017

Nurses in poorer health had an up to 71% higher likelihood of reporting medical errors than did their healthier peers. 

Many years of research has shown that depression among registered nurses is extremely common. One study published last year showed that RNs suffer from depression at almost twice the rate of people in other professions.

Now, new research is linking depression among nurses to a significant uptick in medical errors.

The study, published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, analyzed survey responses of 1,790 U.S. nurses.

It found that 54% reported poor physical and mental health.

About one-third said they had some degree of depression, anxiety, or stress, and less than half said they had a good professional quality of life.

Researchers also found that about half the nurses reported medical errors in the past five years.

When researchers compared the wellness data to the medical error data, they saw a significant link between poor health, particularly depression, and medical errors.

In fact, nurses in poorer health had a 26% to 71% higher likelihood of reporting medical errors than did their healthier peers.

Depression stood out as a major concern and the key predictor of medical errors, the researchers said.

“Hospital administrators should build a culture of well-being and implement strategies to better support good physical and mental health in their employees,” lead author Bernadette Melnyk, dean of The Ohio State University’s College of Nursing and chief wellness officer for the university, said in a statement. “It’s good for nurses, and it’s good for their patients.”

Melnyk noted several steps hospitals and health systems could take toward creating “wellness cultures for their clinicians,” including limiting long shifts and providing easy-to-access, evidence-based resources for physical and mental health, including depression screenings.

The issue of clinician wellness has gotten increasing attention recently.

For instance, the National Academy of Medicine just launched an effort to combat clinician burnout and mental health issues called the “Action Collaborative on Clinician Well-Being and Resilience.”

However, there’s a stigma around mental health care among clinicians, as evidenced by studies and research into physician mental health.

One study in the Society of Teachers of Family Medicine found that state medical boards ask physicians much more extensive and intrusive questions about mental health conditions than for physical health conditions, and many of those questions violated the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Fearing stigma, punishment, and loss of their license, physicians often don’t report their mental health struggles and don’t seek treatment. In addition, up to 15% of physician suicide victims did not receive mental health care.

Alexandra Wilson Pecci is an editor for HealthLeaders.

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