Is Nurse Burnout Causing More Trips to the Emergency Room?

By G Hatfield

It’s no secret that nurses and healthcare professionals across the industry are burnt out.

Nurses are feeling overworked and undervalued, and since the COVID-19 pandemic and the massive nursing shortage, it has only gotten worse.

Nurse and nurse practitioner burnout is known to have a direct impact on the patient’s experience, and now it’s leading to more emergency department visits.

A recent study from the Columbia School of Nursing found two pieces of key information: A sizeable proportion of primary care nurse practitioners are burnt out, and primary care practices with higher rates of nurse practitioner burnout are seeing higher rates of older patients with chronic conditions receiving acute care.

The problem

Out of the nurse practitioners included in the study, 26.3%, or more than 1 in 4, reported burnout, which is comparable to the levels of burnout amongst other clinicians, such as physicians and registered nurses. According to the authors of the study, Lusine Poghosyan, PhD, MPH, RN, and her colleagues, these numbers should cause concern, and they indicate the need for more attention and research on burnout among nurse practitioners, since most of the research currently available was conducted on physicians or registered nurses.

The study also offers an alternative explanation to blaming exhausted clinicians for lack of care quality. The authors suggest that there are broader failures within health systems that have policies and working conditions which lead to burnout.

So, what’s the solution?

In the study, the authors state that poor work environments for nurse practitioners are those where there is a “lack of autonomy, inadequate support for care delivery, and poor relationships with practice administrators.” These issues carry over into all of nursing, where there are continuous calls for better working conditions and more support from health systems.

CNOs have a responsibility to their nurses to deliver better working conditions and help them maintain a better work-life balance. According to Lisa Dolan, Senior VP and CNO at Ardent Health Services, there are many things that can be done to help solve this issue.

“One of the initial things is just to be open and talk about burnout,” she says, “and recognize that it’s a real situation.”

Dolan suggests implementing wellbeing check-ins and debriefings after serious incidents, and potentially offering support programs for new mothers or those caring for aging parents. She also emphasizes the importance of celebrating wins as they come, and using patient feedback as a method of uplifting nurses’ spirits.

G Hatfield is the nursing editor for HealthLeaders.