Untreated 'Compassion Fatigue' Puts Hospital Patients at Risk

Empathy is an essential quality in caregivers. For hospital nurses, who routinely interact with patients at their most vulnerable, it is an absolute necessity. However, the trauma of constantly confronting others' suffering, coupled with burnout from ongoing demands, has the potential to cause what hospitals call "compassion fatigue" - a stress-related loss of compassion that can damage patient quality of care or result in medical malpractice.

Identified in the early 1990s, the implications of compassion fatigue go beyond patient annoyance at the occasional rude remark or sarcastic comment. If unchecked, compassion fatigue can reduce patient safety and lead to higher rates of mortality, according to an article in Fiercehealthcare.com. For the caregivers themselves, the condition can cause sadness, despair, headaches, mood swings and sleep disturbances. Studies have linked the problem to lower productivity, added sick time and high-turnover rates among cancer-care providers.

Caregiver Support Helps Healthcare Workers Avoid Burnout

To combat compassion fatigue, hospitals are training nurses and other hospital staff to avoid burnout with meditation, stress-reduction workshops, support groups and open dialogue about job stress. The American Nurses Association's (ANA) Healthy Nurse program sponsored its first workshop on the issue at its annual conference in 2010 and lists resources on its website.

"Being a caregiver is difficult and full of challenges, and that isn't going to change," said nurse Patricia Potter, the director of research for patient-care services at St. Louis' Barnes-Jewish Hospital, in an online Wall Street Journal article. But with the proper support, she said, caregivers can learn to "self-regulate their stress and restore the energy they need to provide the best patient care."

If you or a loved one has been suffered injury or neglect during a hospital stay, contact an experienced malpractice attorney to discuss your case and determine your options.

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