A Surprising Cause of Medical Errors: Depressed Nurses

Medical professionals can make mistakes for all kinds of reasons, not the least of which is sleep deprivation due to lengthy shifts. But as Ohio State University recently reported, new research has revealed another culprit: Depressed nurses.

The study, which surveyed a cross section demographic of nurses nationwide, revealed some startling statistics. For example:

Fifty-four percent of the nurses said they were in poor physical or mental health
About 1/3 of nurses admitted to being depressed
About half of the nurses self-reported medical errors during the past 5 years

In analyzing this and other data, researchers drew a significant link between the occurrence of depression and the number of medical errors committed.

Why Depression Causes Mistakes

According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), three of the more common symptoms of depression are:

Sleep issues (e.g., insomnia, oversleeping)
Fatigue
Difficulty concentrating, remembering or making decisions

The first two of these symptoms, sleep issues and fatigue, are already known contributors to the number of medical errors. As to the third, nursing requires a great deal of concentration and the ability to make quick decisions; if these functions become impaired by depression, medical mistakes become a predictable outcome.

Reducing the Risk

Until the medical community takes steps to help improve the overall physical and emotional health of its workers, it’s up to the patients and their families to be vigilant. We encourage you to review the ADAA’s entire list of depression symptoms. If you or your loved one is receiving medical treatment in a hospital or clinic and notice the attending nurse exhibiting one or more of these symptoms, you have the right to consult with a superior to point out a potential problem and ask for a replacement.

If any type of medical error has victimized you or someone you love, our Washington D.C. medical malpractice attorneys can help. Give us a call to explore your options.