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Your Health: Medical errors linked to nurses
(CNN) -- Almost one year ago, the Institute of Medicine released a report showing that up to 98,000 patients die in hospitals every year due to medical errors. This week, a major newspaper reported that nursing mistakes alone are responsible for thousands of injuries and deaths.
The investigation by the Chicago Tribune found that poorly trained or overworked nurses were responsible for the deaths of 1,700 patients and injuries to 9,548 since 1995. The paper said cuts in hospital staffs had led to registered nurses working longer hours and to under-trained nurses being used more often.
An analysis of 3 million state and federal computer records showed that hospitals are sacrificing patient safety for a better bottom line, the newspaper said.
The records include cases of patients getting overdoses of medication, vital care being delayed for hours and nurses performing medical procedures without proper training.
The findings don't come as a surprise to some experts.
"There is a correlation between nurse staffing ratios and adverse events that occur in hospitals that are related to nursing care," said Dr. John Eisenberg of the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.
The American Nurses Association said it tried to warn consumers of the potential for inadequate care in a press release sent to media groups last year.
The group places much of the blame for nursing errors on the practice of mandatory overtime, a measure that some hospitals use to compensate for a shortage of registered nurses.
"When institutions are having difficulties finding staff," said Patricia Underwood of the American Nurses Association, "they can use overtime as a means of staffing instead of trying to create environments that attract more nurses so that they can get more staff."
Another factor contributing to the nursing shortage and crisis in care: the aging nurse workforce. More than half of nurses are over age 45, and many are retiring. And fewer young people are choosing nursing as a profession.
The American Hospital Association said hospitals use other cost-cutting measures first, before resorting to reducing costs at the bedside.
But experts say the situation is only going to get worse.
"We are well into the crisis," said Marla Salmon, dean of the Emory School of Nursing, "and I think people have been reluctant to talk about it." One reason for that, she added, is that hospitals don't want to admit they are providing inadequate care.
Nursing mistakes cause thousands of deaths, probe finds
American Nurses Association
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