Reducing Staff Burnout is a Patient Safety Measure

During Fire Safety Month, GloShield wants your hospital to be prepared for anything-especially surgical fires. We all know how it feels to be overwhelmed and overworked, but for healthcare workers, burnout is a patient safety issue. Staff burnout is more likely to lead to major mistakes that put patients at risk for surgical burns and fires.

This past year has been extremely tough on the medical field. With overcrowded hospitals and labor shortages, between 30-60% of healthcare workers report feelings of burnout. But what exactly does that mean, and what can be done to fix it? 

staff burnout

What is Staff Burnout? 

According to the WHO, burnout is defined as “a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.” In other words, burnout occurs when healthcare workers are emotionally exhausted without any support from their workplace. Some of the most common causes of burnout include overcrowding, understaffing, poor workflow, financial stress, and losing control in the workplace. 

Overcrowding and understaffing naturally lead to longer hours for healthcare workers, who, in turn, have less time to unwind and destress when they get home. Most healthcare workers battle with these stressors on a daily basis, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.

What Causes Burnout?

Even years before the pandemic, more than 50% of healthcare workers reported burnout for a multitude of reasons. For example, almost everyone understands the stress that comes with trying to make ends meet. When healthcare workers aren’t making enough money, they often try to pick up shifts to cover their expenses. Working overtime can lead to less sleep and an extra dose of work-related stress. 

Other, less obvious causes of burnout may not be apparent to leadership. Healthcare workers report spending over half their workday on administrative tasks, often made more difficult by healthcare technology with poor user interfaces. The frustration of inefficient technology combined with feeling like they’re neglecting patients significantly contributes to burnout. 

Doctors often struggle with loss of control in their workplace. Doctors’ feelings of lost autonomy cause nearly 25% of all healthcare worker burnout cases. With decision-making power increasingly falling on administrators or insurance companies, many doctors report that they no longer feel like they are the primary contributor to patient care, and are losing motivation.


Burnout is a Safety Hazard

When experiencing burnout, healthcare workers have reported feelings of apathy and cynicism. These feelings are often expressed through reduced team collaboration and diminished compassion for patients. Often these burnout symptoms create a vicious cycle of stress for healthcare workers, who need to get along with coworkers and feel valuable in their job in order to reduce their burden.

On top of their own loss of interest and motivation, burnout also affects healthcare workers’ cognitive functions. The British Medical Journal found that burnout results in impaired memory and attention to detail. This is obviously dangerous in the medical field, where one wrong move can be deadly for a patient. 

Due to these impairments, exhaustion, and apathy, healthcare workers are much more likely to make mistakes. According to the Joint Commission, “Strong evidence illustrates that burnout and well-being are not simply a matter of HCWs’ experiences, but also are tied to performance on diverse metrics, including patient safety events, diagnostic errors, patient/family experience, recovery times, and health care spending on tests and procedures.” 

While healthcare workers struggle to push through a shift while experiencing burnout, all of these symptoms put patients at greater risk of a never event, like a surgical fire or wrong-site surgery. 


Hospitals Need Structural Change

Staff burnout is a systemic threat to healthcare workers and patients alike. While individual healthcare workers may mitigate burnout through meditation, diet, and exercise, a top-down approach is necessary to redesign the system that causes burnout in the first place.

Leadership should be mindful of burnout when making decisions on policy, financial incentives, technology, and their overall leadership strategy. The first step is to have honest, meaningful conversations with staff about where their needs are not being met by management. From increasing wages to purchasing more user-friendly software to standardizing less burdensome protocols and workflows, these policy decisions can relieve stress and vastly improve healthcare workers’ daily lives.

Without massive change, hospital management should expect greater turnover rates, reduced patient satisfaction, and an increase in preventable medical mistakes. 


Mitigate Your Risk 

Until hospital systems can undergo a total policy overhaul, organizations can take specific safety measures to prevent errors caused by burnout. When dealing with impaired memory, it’s important to have visual reminders of patient safety protocols. Posting safety flyers and information in operating rooms can go a long way to prevent avoidable events. 

Another key to preventing medical errors is taking a “time out” before surgeries. During this brief check-in, healthcare workers should all come to an agreement that they are with the right patient, performing the correct procedure, and working at the appropriate site. A time-out checklist can significantly reduce the risk of wrong-patient or wrong-site surgery by keeping staff alert, even during bouts of burnout.

Finally, implementing straightforward, intuitive technologies that prevent never events and near misses enhances patient safety and provides peace of mind to staff. Surgical fire is a major risk in the operating room, and these incidents are frequently caused by staff errors related to a breakdown in protocol and communication. With burned-out staff, that risk is even greater. Easy interventions like GloShield can make a huge difference in preventing potentially catastrophic errors. GloShield is a small, easy-to-use cover for fiber-optic light cables that can quickly reduce your risk of fire in the operating room. 


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