Posts Tagged ‘nurses’

Working Conditions for Nurses Impact Patient Health

Tuesday, May 3rd, 2011

I suspect that anyone who has spent even as much as one day or night in a hospital knows just how critical the nursing staff is in the , health, care and comfort of a patient. A compassionate and personable nurse can put a patient at ease and help them feel better in ways that go beyond just medicine.

Recently, I wrote about how different schedules impact nurses’ lives and how they cope with shifting from day to night schedules. This week, I was drawn to write about nurses again after seeing an article on medicalnewstoday.com that spoke about a study done by the University of Maryland School of Nursing.

According to the article, the study determined that “[b]etter working conditions and better staffing of nurses can significantly improve the care of patients with serious conditions…” The study examined the psychological demands and work schedules of nurses:

…they measured high psychological demands by very fast work, lack of time to complete work, excessive required work, being slowed by delays from other workers, and frequent interruptions.

The data showed “…pneumonia deaths were significantly more likely in hospitals where nurses reported increased psychological demands and more adverse work schedules.” Equally troubling, “…patients were more likely to develop deep vein thrombosis after surgery in hospitals where nurses reported high psychological demands.” These were not the only areas in which the demands placed on nurses negatively impacted patient health.

The researchers calculated the association between job demands on nurses, both psychological and physical, and work schedule, against outcomes of patients with heart attacks, congestive heart failure, stroke, and surgeries that open a bone flap of the skull [craniotomy].

Also, they discovered that deaths from congestive heart failure were also significantly associated with long shifts and with nurses continuing to work while sick.

They found that deaths from heart attacks were associated with nurses frequently working with awkward postures and heavy weekly burdens.

Patients were more likely to experience postoperative hemorrhaging when their nurses were frequently interrupted.

And, where nurses reported a lack of time away from the job, patients were significantly more likely to develop respiratory failure and infections.

While difficult working conditions for nurses have a negative impact on patient health, the article reported that “[p]ositive aspects of the practice environment, such as peer and supervisor support, did not offset, or balance, the adverse impact of these demands.” Only, “[h]ospitals where nurses reported a focus on patient safety were less likely to have such complications or adverse patient outcomes [compared to] hospitals where patient safety was not a stated focus.”

What should be done with this information? To me, the critical lesson here is that work conditions for nurses dramatically influence patient outcomes. Attention must be paid to the conditions for nurses in terms of scheduling, interruptions, time off, and other work conditions. Do hospitals currently examine nurses’ psychological and physicals burdens as part of a comprehensive focus on patient safety? How as a patient do you chose a hospital – do you look only at the doctor’s qualifications or do you look also at other factors such as nursing at the hospital? Is it the duty of a hospital to provide working conditions for nurses that promote optimal patient safety?

 

Nurses Switching Shifts: Does a Lack of Sleep Put Patients at Risk?

Friday, April 22nd, 2011

Image from scrubsmag.com

Many of us take it as a given that if we end up in a hospital, we will be taken care of by an around-the-clock group of health care professionals. These doctors, nurses and other staff will be awake and alert to care for us and prevent any potential problems during our stay. However, how many of you have thought about how this impacts these health care professionals on their days off? I know that I had not thought too much about this issue. I had taken for granted that if I or a loved one were hospitalized that the professionals involved in their care would be at least well rested enough to avoid major medical errors.

I have read lots of different reports about all of the rule changes for doctors in training regarding how many hours they can work in a week or at one time. I had never before read a report regarding the impact of work schedules on nurses. While I knew that most nurses worked 12-hour shifts, I have to admit that I had not thought about how this impacted their own lives or patient care. That changed when I read a recent article in medicalnewstoday.com. This article discusses a study published in Public Library of Science One that was conducted “…to examine the strategies that night nurses use to adjust between day and night sleep cycles.”

What seems obvious in retrospect, but that I had never really considered before, is that nurses who work the night shift (typically 7 pm until 7 am – or “7p to 7a” as they like to call it), normally do not stay up all night in their “non-work” lives. On their days off, they often want to live a more typical life with daytime awake hours. The ramification of this is that they need to switch their sleep schedule back and forth several times throughout the week. Can you image having to do that yourself and still perform your job properly?

The medicalnewstoday.com article explains that “[a]s many as 25 percent of hospital nurses go without sleep for at least 24 hours in order to adjust to working on the night shift, which is the least effective strategy for adapting their internal, circadian clocks to a night-time schedule.”

The “First Shift” Effect

So, the first issue in this revelation is that as many as a quarter of hospital nurses are going without sleep for at least 24 hours when adjusting to working the night shift. I shudder to think of how many nurses around the country are therefore working at least their first night shift every week while on hours 12-24 of not having slept.

While others may function better than I do without sleep, I don’t think that I would ever feel comfortable being cared for by a nurse who had not slept in the prior 12 hours before starting their shift. It seems to me that this opens up the possibility for many medical errors and patient injuries.

The Circadian Clock Effect

The second issue I had was that this is also “the least effective strategy for adapting their internal, circadian clocks” – which I take to mean that if a nurse who has not slept for that first shift is not bad enough – it also does not work very well to help them be adjusted and well rested for the rest of the week.

If the concerns about the health of the public being cared for by tired nurses is not bad enough, this can also be quite damaging to the health of the nurses themselves. These selfless individuals who are caring for others are – frankly – at risk.

A number of previous studies have found that repeated incidence of circadian misalignment the condition that occurs when individuals’ sleep/wake patterns are out of sync with their biological clocks is not healthy. Jet lag is the most familiar example of this condition. Circadian misalignment has been associated with increased risk of developing cardiovascular, metabolic and gastrointestinal disorders, some types of cancer and several mental disorders.

So, these nurses are risking their own health in addition to potentially the health of their patients.

Just how important is sleep?

Just how much does sleep matter? Well, another article from medicalnewstoday.com recently looked at sleep in a very different context. It examined a study from the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, which showed that “…automobile crash rates among teen drivers…” were dramatically higher in otherwise similar school districts where teens started school earlier in the morning (a difference of about 1 hours and twenty minutes). While there is no proof yet that this connection is causal, there certainly seems to be a strong connection even after adjusting for other possible factors. The article also mentions that:

Another study in the April issue of the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine suggests that delaying school start times by one hour could enhance students’ cognitive performance by improving their attention level and increasing their rate of performance, as well as reducing their mistakes and impulsivity. The Israeli study of 14-year-old, eighth-grade students found that the teens slept about 55 minutes longer each night and performed better on tests that require attention when their school start time was delayed by one hour.

While teens and teenage behavior can be different from that of adults (thank goodness), I still think that these studies highlight some of the key issues of sleep deprivation. Adults seem likely to also make more mistakes, lack attention and act more impulsively when functioning on less sleep.

However, a review of a study from Nursing Economics entitled “Shift Work in Nursing: Is it Really a Risk Factor for Nurses’ Health and Patients’ Safety” suggests that other factors put nurses’ health at greater risk and that shift work does not impact the number of medical errors. The study was conducted in Israel in 2003. It is important to note that this study looked at nurses working alternating 8-hour shifts and did not directly look at the issue of nurses not sleeping in order to switch between 12-hour shifts.  The investigators in the study were surprised by some of their findings:

Shift work and organizational outcomes. In the present study, we investigated the impact of sleep disturbances on shift nurses and on two organizational outcomes: errors and incidents and absenteeism from work. Based on our literature review (Morshead, 2002; Muecke, 2005; Westfall-Lake, 1997), we expected that “non-adaptive shift nurses” would report on more involvement in errors and adverse incidents as compared to “adaptive shift nurses.” We also assumed that non-adaptive nurses, who by definition have more sleep-related complaints, would have higher absenteeism rates due to illness compared to their adaptive colleagues. Neither of our hypotheses was supported by the results of this study.

Instead the study found that:

It appears that gender, age, and weight are more significant factors than shift work in determining the well-being of nurses. Moreover, nurses who were identified as being non-adaptive to shift work based on their complaints about sleep were found to work as effectively and safely as their adaptive colleagues in terms of absenteeism from work and involvement in professional errors and accidents.

What do you think? Would you want a nurse who has been up for 24 hours to be caring for you or your loved one? Should it be the nurse’s decision whether they are alert enough for work? Should rules be created for nurses just as they were for physicians in training? What about nurses who enjoy the flexibility and freedom allowed by this sort of schedule? Have you worked as a nurse? What are your experiences and feedback on whether this is a problem?

Related Post – you may want to read:

A Surgeon’s Sleep Deprivation and Elective Surgery – Not a good (or safe) combination.

The New England Journal of Medicine published a Perspective on December 30, 2010, that screams common sense and should be embraced as a starting point to implement some new patient-safety standards of practice. Place yourself in the position of a patient getting ready to undergo an elective (i.e. non-emergency) surgical procedure. You’re wheeled into the operating room for your surgery and are greeted by your surgeon in the process. Read more…


 

Anne Mitchell, Whistle-Blowing Nurse, Is Acquitted in Texas – NYTimes.com

Thursday, February 11th, 2010

Just a few days ago – somewhat as a Johnny-come-lately it appears, I wrote about a nurse in Texas charged with a crime for reporting a doctor (anonymously) to a medical licensing board.   The nurse, Anne Mitchell, was acquitted today after a 4 day trial.  After digging out from under our second huge snow storm  for most of the day, I finally had a chance to check the news  and here it was - Anne Mitchell, Whistle-Blowing Nurse, Is Acquitted in Texas – NYTimes.com.  And GOOD NEWS it is.  The good people of Texas were able ot come to the right decision in less than an hour.

You may recall the story – Nurse Mitchell filed a complaint with the state medical board after she observed what she believed was unsafe medical practice by a physician at her hospital.  Turns out the doctor had a patient and close friend – the local sheriff.  Next thing Nurse Mitchell knew – she was facing criminal charges.

As we also reported, she and a fellow nurse (who had also been originally charged but against whom charges were dropped prior to trial) have filed a lawsuit against the doctor, the hospital, the prosecutor – anyone and everyone who had anything to do with the absurd prosecution.  That’s apparently going to be the second round- more to come on that one.

The prosecution charged that they had violated the statute by using their positions to obtain and disseminate confidential information, namely patient file numbers, with intent to harm the doctor, Rolando G. Arafiles Jr.

This charge is a third degree felony under Texas law and carries a maximum sentence of 10 years and a $10,000 fine.

Here’ s how the Times reporter, Kevin Sack, presented the arguments of the prosecution and the defense:

The prosecutor, Scott M. Tidwell, the county attorney, argued during the trial that Mrs. Mitchell had waged a vendetta to force Dr. Arafiles from the hospital almost since his arrival in April 2008.

But Mrs. Mitchell’s lawyers presented broad evidence that her concerns about the doctor were well-founded, and that she violated no laws or regulations by alerting the governmental body that licenses and regulates physicians.

The quote by her lawyer after the ‘not guilty’ verdict tells all you need to know if Nurse Mitchell intends to go forward with her civil lawsuit:

“We are glad that this phase of this ordeal has ended and that Anne has been restored to her liberty,” said Mrs. Mitchell’s lawyer, John H. Cook IV. “But there was great damage done in this case, and this does not make them whole.”

Good for her!  If you think going through a criminal prosecution with possible jail time and a fine is not ‘an ordeal’ – try it some time.  We’ll try to keep up on this story to let you know what happens with this civil lawsuit – why do I think I hear the word  ”settlement”  - maybe because that’s what those who are liable for this fiasco should do if they have any common sense (which is debatable).

Healthcare providers, who are concerned about patient safety, should not be silenced by the threat of prosecution when they take steps to correct what they perceive to be a lack of quality care.  Nurse Mitchell should have been applauded for her action, not prosecuted.  At least this evening – she can rest comfortably – and get ready for Round Two – hope she knocks them out!

Nurse who reported doctor to disciplinary board faces criminal charges in Texas

Monday, February 8th, 2010

This just in from a report in the American Bar Association’s Law News NowProsecutors in Texas have charged a nurse, Anne Mitchell, with a third degree felony (which carries a 10 year prison sentence) for ‘misuse of official information’ when she anonymously reported a doctor for various acts, which she deemed dangerous to the patients he was treating.

The prosecution maintains that Mitchell had a history of making “inflammatory” statements about Dr. Rolando G. Arafiles Jr. and that her goal was to damage his reputation when she reported the doctor to the state licensing and disciplinary board.

Mitchell, however, believed she had an obligation to protect patients from what she saw as a pattern of improper prescribing and surgical procedures. Among her complaints was that Arafiles performed a failed skin graft in an emergency room, where he didn’t have surgical privileges, the Times reports. Another complaint—that the doctor sutured a rubber tip to a patient’s crushed finger for protection—was reportedly later deemed inappropriate by the Texas Department of State Health Services.

Bad blood or just bad medicine?  Regardless – does Texas really believe they are serving some public interest by charging this nurse with a felony?   Does this really send the right message to the medical personnel in our health institutions when they observe what they believe to be poor care and violations of patient safety?

This will be a most interesting matter to follow as well as the civil action being brought by Nurse Mitchell and a fellow nurse, Vickilyn Galle, who assisted Nurse Mitchell in writing the letter (charges were dropped against Galle last week), for violations of their rights to free speech and due process.  This civil action by the nurses is being brought against the doctor, the hospital, the sheriff and prosecutors

One other sidebar note: Dr. Arafiles apparently complained about this letter to his friend and patient, the Winkler County sheriff.

The New York Times in reporting on this fiasco, reports:

Until they were fired without explanation on June 1, Mrs. Mitchell and Mrs. Galle had worked a combined 47 years at Winkler County Memorial Hospital here, most recently as its compliance and quality improvement officers.

According to the Times report, nursing associations – both national and state, have risen up in defense of what they called outrageous charges.  These organizations have raised $40,000 for the defense of these charges.

Legal experts argue that in a civil context, Mrs. Mitchell would seem to be protected by Texas whistle-blower laws.

“To me, this is completely over the top,” said Louis A. Clark, president of the Government Accountability Project, a group that promotes the defense of whistle-blowers. “It seems really, really unique.”

See what you get for trying to hold people accountable for what you believe is bad medical care and for placing patient’s health and safety at risk?  Hmmm…. sounds like lawyers representing plaintiffs in medical malpractice cases aren’t the only ones facing criticism (and now criminal charges) these days.

Good luck, Nurse Mitchell.  Give ‘em hell!


Public beware: disciplined nurses crossing state lines to practice anew.

Monday, January 4th, 2010

A recent report posted on ProPublica tells a shocking and scary tale of how some nurses, disciplined in one state, have taken up new jobs as licensed nurses in a different jurisdiction.  This story was brought to light by the combined investigative efforts of Charles Ornstein and Tracy Weber of ProPublica and Maloy Moore of the Los Angeles Times on December 27, 2009.

According to this report, there exists a “dangerous gap” in the way states regulate nurses.  As an example of just how serious a problem this may be, the reporters found that in California alone, a months-long review of the 350,000 registered nurses in that state revealed that there were at least 177 nurses, whose licenses had been revoked, suspended, surrendered or denied elsewhere.

The online article gives the following example (among a number they discovered):

In May 2005, a 3 year old boy, Jexier Otero-Cardona, died while under the care of a home health nurse, Orphia Wilson. The child suffered from chronic respiratory failure and muscular dystrophy.  Early one morning, Nurse Wilson frantically summoned the child’s parents for assistance when the child stopped breathing.  After heroic efforts at CPR by his mother, the child died the  next day at a hospital in Connecticut.

This was not the first child to die under Nurse Wilson’s care, the state’s investigation revealed.  Just seven months before, Nurse Wilson had lost her Florida license due to apparent lapses in the care of another child in that state in 2002.

In the months of investigation by Connecticut officials that followed Jexier’s death, it was determined that Wilson “had fallen asleep, then ignored – or possibly turned-off – the ventilator alarms that were intended to warn when the child was not getting enough oxygen.”

The following quote from the article tells the tragic story of a failed system of regulating the licensure of nursing in our country:

“Florida officials, for instance, didn’t notify Connecticut authorities when they sanctioned Wilson – even though she’d told them that she also held a Connecticut license. And Connecticut’s nursing board renewed Wilson’s license three times after Thierry’s death, relying on her pledge that she hadn’t been disciplined or investigated elsewhere.”

The reporters identify several key failures in our country’s system of regulating the licensing of nurses.  First, they note that in some instances some states do not do a simple check of a national database, which can within seconds reveal (if the data  has been timely and accurately supplied) that a nurse has been disciplined elsewhere.  This has dire implications in many hospitals and health care employers rely on state nursing boards to verify a nurse’s licensure status and fitness to practice.  Secondly, they tell a tale of how long a disciplinary process may take and how long the reporting of that finding will occur, if ever.  The tale of horrors goes on and on.

Just a bit of digging (much more to come!) into the background of this issue reveals that The Medicare and Medicaid Patient and Program Protection Act of 1987 led to the creation of the National Practitioner Data Bank (NPDB), which was a tracking system designed to protect program beneficiaries from ‘unfit’ health care practitioners.  The NPDB was implemented in the fall of 1990 and required reporting of adverse licensure, hospital privilege and professional society actions relating to quality of care by physicians and dentists. According to one source, proposed rules adding other practitioners, including nurses, were published in March 2007.

Query:  does anyone know if those “proposed rules” were ever made into final rules?

The full scope of the legislative history, the awarding of three grants to the National Council of State Boards of Nursing by Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) in excess of $1,000,000 between 1990 and 1997, the commendable activities of the National Council of State Boards of Nursing over many years to get better control and surveillance of licensure and ‘fitness’ to practice for nurses are all topics well beyond the scope of this blog.

Research is underway by our firm to determine the current status of federal legislation in this area as well as a myriad of other related topics – for example, what states boards of nursing do not yet have an agreement with the National Council?  What are the current requirements for timely reporting of adverse actions against nurses?  What legislation, if any, is pending to address this situation?  What other sad stories like that reported by these investigative writers are out there?

All the hard work to establish reporting guidelines and a national network for avoidance of these types of tragedies can not go for naught due to provincial and/or political interests that can result in serious harm to the public.

If you have any information about the current status of legislation or stories like that reported by ProPublica and others, let us know.