From The Ergoweb® Learning Center

Error Rates for Nurses Increase With Length of Shifts

Nurses who work for more than 12 hours straight could be facing error rates that are three times as high as their counterparts who are clocking in for shorter shifts, says a recent study published in Health Affairs.

According to the study, conducted by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania, approximately 40 percent of all hospital nursing shifts exceed 12 hours, and with the increased hours worked comes an increased opportunities for nurses to make mistakes.

Three hundred ninety three hospital nurses and their associated 5,317 shifts were studied over a four-week period to determine the impact of longer hours on the nurses’ job performance. “There are over 50 studies of physicians’ work schedules, but we have never looked at our largest group of health-care providers which are registered nurses," said the study’s lead author, Ann Rogers, an associate professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Nursing, in an interview with CNN.

During the shifts studied, Rogers and other researchers found that 199 medical errors were reported, most of which involved medication errors like giving the wrong drug or dose or giving the medication later than scheduled. Another 213 near errors – situations where the nurses caught themselves before they made a mistake — were also reported by the nurses in the study.

The odds of making an error were also greater whenever nurses worked more than 40 hours in a week. Additionally, the study found that working overtime, regardless of the length of the original shift, increased the nurses’ chances of making at least one error.

On average, the nurses in the study worked almost an hour longer than scheduled each day and one-third of the nurses put in overtime each day they worked during the study. The longest single shift reported in the study was 23 hours and 40 minutes.

Previous studies have linked long hours logged by doctors to medical errors as well, including one poll in which 41 percent of doctors said that their own fatigue was the main cause of their treatment-related errors. Also, beginning in July, 2003, medical residents became restricted by the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME) from putting in more than 30-hours straight or 80-hours per week, although reports from earlier this year indicated that not all hospitals were complying with the new restrictions.

Sources: CNN; Health Affairs; ABCNews; Ergonomics Today