Is your health care provider dangerously fatigued?

Health care organizations are being urged to pay greater attention to preventing fatigue among their workers for the safety of their patients.

The Joint Commission, the non-profit organization that accredits hospitals and other health care organizations across the country, issued a “sentinel event alert” Wednesday. Alerts are intended to identify a specific type of safety issue and its underlying causes, and suggest steps to correct it.

The Joint Commission said the link between health care worker fatigue and patient safety is well-documented. For example:
— Nurses working 12.5 hours or longer are three times more likely to make a mistake in patient care.
— Medical residents working recurrent 24-hours shifts make five times as many serious diagnostic errors, experience 61 percent more needlestick and other sharp injuries after their 20th consecutive hour of work and report making 300 percent more fatigue-related preventable adverse events that led to a patient’s death.

Fatigue over an extended period can lead to loss of empathy, memory lapses, irritability, reduced motivation, lapses of attention, diminished reaction time, an inability to stay focused, confusion and slowed or faulty information processing and judgement, according to the alert.

The Joint Commission is urging health care organizations to do an assessment for fatigue-related risks. The organization is also urging health care organizations to include their staffs in designing work schedules that minimize the potential for fatigue and to provide staff education about good sleep habits and effects of fatigue on patient safety.

The commission is also encouraging organizations to take a close look at the times when patients are handed off from one caregiver to another, because that’s a time of risk that can fatigue can worsen.

And lastly, the organization is urging management plans that include scientific strategies for fighting fatigue, such as physical activity, caffeine consumption, short naps and conversation.
 

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