"There is a tendency for nurses to get tired and want to take a break when they are taking on a heavier than normal load of patients, so they may cut corners to get work done," Cheryl Wagner, an associate dean of graduate nursing programs at American Sentinel University, said in a statement.
"Nurses may 'forget' proper nursing care, such as dressing changes and emptying of drainage bags, or not pay attention to details such as hand washing and careful handling of contaminated articles, and this can be a major cause of hospital-acquired infections."
Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania used the survey tool Maslach Burnout Inventory to analyze nurses' job-related attitudes. It then compared a hospital's percentage of burned-out nurses to its rates of catheter associated urinary tract infections and surgical site infections.
The study, published in the American Journal of Infection Control, found every 10 percent increase in the number of high-burnout nurses correlated with one additional catheter associated urinary tract infection and two additional surgical site infections per 1,000 patients annually.
The researchers used the Association for Professionals in Infection Control per-patient average costs associated with catheter-associated urinary tract infections at $749-$832 each and surgical site infections at $11,087-$29,443 each.
The researchers estimated if nurse burnout rates could be reduced to 10 percent from an average of 30 percent, Pennsylvania hospitals could prevent an estimated 4,160 infections annually and save $41 million.
When nurses feel there is a lack of teamwork, or that management's values conflict with their own -- putting financial concerns ahead of patient safety, for instance -- stress can build up to the point that some nurses simply detach from their work, Wagner said.