Hospitals work to prevent nurse fatigue

Buddy systems and "flex nurses" are two ways that some hospitals attempt to ease nurses' burden and reduce the likelihood of fatigue, in keeping with recommendations from the American Nurses Association (ANA), according to the Courier-Journal.

The unique danger of fatigue among nurses is due to the relative lack of safeguards against it compared to other professions involving long hours, operating room nurse John Kauchick, R.N., told the Courier-Journal.

"With truck drivers and airline pilots, they'll pull the driver out of the truck or the pilot out of the plane," he said. "If you're a nurse, [long hours] are what you sign up for."

But healthcare leaders have taken steps to implement policies that reduce fatigue. For example, KentuckyOne Health now hires "flex nurses" to cover flexible shifts to prevent other nurses from working to the point of exhaustion, according to the article.

Bangor, Maine night-shift nurse Lisa Oliver told the publication she usually works two 12-hour shifts every week, but often takes extra shifts to cover the pediatric intensive care unit. Her employers work to avoid fatigue-related errors with a "buddy system," under which nurses keep an eye on one another's work, she told the publication.

Fatigue presents numerous dangers to staff and patients, ANA President Pam Cipriano, Ph.D., told the Courier-Journal. "If a nurse is fatigued, it is possible that a mistake could be made or someone could forget to pass along an important fact, or the person could be more on edge," she said.

Indeed, in a 2013 survey, more than a quarter of nurses said fatigue had led them to make an error at work, FierceHealthcare previously reported. 

The ANA recommends hospitals incorporate the following policy provisions:

  • Limit shift lengths to 12 hours and work weeks to 40 hours
  • Abolish mandatory overtime
  • Promote regular rest breaks
  • Allow nurses to decline assignments they think will cause fatigue
  • Restrict consecutive night shifts for nurses who work both days and nights
  • Provide nurses with places to sleep or transportation when they feel too tired to drive

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- here's the article