African American male nurse inputting patient details to electronic medical record system.

Overtime has become a common occurrence in the healthcare industry, especially in hospitals and health systems that struggle to meet their staffing needs. Nurses, in particular, are often asked to work overtime, sometimes even on a regular basis. While overtime may seem like a necessary solution to staffing gaps, excessive and prolonged overtime can have negative impacts on patient care, nurse well-being, and hospital finances

In this article, we will explore the high cost of nurse overtime and provide strategies for avoiding staffing gaps and supporting nurse well-being. We will also highlight the importance of addressing this issue, as it not only impacts the quality of patient care but also the sustainability of healthcare organizations. 

The Toll of Nurse Overtime 

Nurse overtime is a significant issue in the healthcare industry, with hospitals and health systems relying on it to fill staffing gaps. However, excessive and prolonged overtime can have serious impacts on hospital stability, from budgetary to patient outcomes. 

Decreased Quality of Care and Increased Risk of Medical Errors 

Numerous studies have shown that nurse overtime can negatively impact the quality of patient care and increase the risk of medical errors. Nurses who work overtime have a higher likelihood of experiencing burnout, leading to a decreased ability to provide quality care. The National Institute of Health found that nurse overtime was associated with an increased risk of medication errors. The risk of errors increased with each additional hour of overtime worked. 

According to the NIH, Nurse overtime is directly associated with an 
increased risk of medication errors.

Increased Stress and Burnout 

Nurse overtime can also have negative impacts on nurse well-being, leading to increased stress and burnout. Nurses who work overtime report higher levels of emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and reduced personal accomplishment. These negative effects impact the individual nurse and also lead to decreased job satisfaction and increased turnover rates, which can further exacerbate staffing gaps. 

Increased Labor Costs and Decreased Productivity 

Nurse overtime can have negative impacts on hospital finances. While it may seem like a cost-effective solution to staffing gaps, excessive overtime can lead to increased labor costs and decreased productivity. According to a report by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), nurses who work overtime are more likely to experience fatigue and decreased alertness, leading to decreased productivity and an increased risk of errors. Additionally, hospitals may incur costs associated with overtime pay and benefits. 

Strategies for Avoiding Nurse Overtime 

To mitigate the negative impacts of nurse overtime, hospitals, and health systems can implement several strategies and technology tools to avoid excessive and prolonged overtime.  

Optimizing Nurse Staffing Levels 

One effective strategy is to optimize staffing levels by ensuring that the right number of nurses are scheduled to work each shift. This can be achieved by using data and analytics to predict patient demand and adjusting staffing levels accordingly. ShiftMed’s Internal Resource Manger technology centralizes your workforce data, making identifying, prioritizing, and managing your healthcare staffing easy.  

Adjusting Schedules 

Another strategy is to adjust nurse schedules to reduce the likelihood of overtime. For instance, hospitals can implement self-scheduling systems that allow nurses to select shifts that work best for their personal and professional lives. The ShiftMed API makes it easy to integrate with other healthcare systems to eliminate multi-source labor issues, allowing VMS, MSP, and workforce management platforms to tap into a labor marketplace and synchronize internal and external labor pool data.  

Offering Incentives 

Hospitals and health systems can offer incentives to encourage nurses to work additional shifts without resorting to overtime. For example, some hospitals offer shift bonuses or extra paid time off for working additional shifts. 

Supporting Nurse Wellbeing 

While avoiding nurse overtime is crucial for improving patient care and hospital finances, it is equally important to support nurse well-being. By addressing the root causes of staffing gaps and promoting work-life balance, hospitals, and health systems can help prevent burnout and increase job satisfaction among nurses. 

Addressing Root Causes 

One way to support nurse well-being is by addressing the root causes of staffing gaps. This may involve increasing the number of nursing staff, improving workplace conditions, and providing additional resources to manage patient demand. 

Promoting Work-Life Balance 

Hospitals can also promote work-life balance by offering flexible schedules, providing opportunities for remote work, and implementing wellness programs. These initiatives can help nurses balance their personal and professional lives, reduce stress, and improve well-being. 

Providing Opportunities for Professional Development 

Providing opportunities for professional development can help nurses stay engaged in their work and feel valued by their employers. This can include offering educational and training programs, career advancement opportunities, and mentorship programs. 

Overcome Overtime with ShiftMed 

By implementing strategies to avoid nurse overtime and support nurse well-being, hospitals and health systems can improve the quality of patient care, retain nursing staff, and enhance the reputation of their organization. 

As healthcare leaders, it is essential to review staffing practices and consider implementing strategies such as optimizing staffing levels, adjusting schedules, and offering incentives to avoid excessive overtime. Additionally, promoting work-life balance, addressing root causes of staffing gaps, and providing opportunities for professional development can help support nurse well-being and reduce burnout. 

By prioritizing these strategies and embracing the technology solutions that will help get them there, healthcare leaders can create a culture that values the well-being of nursing staff and provides the best possible care to patients. Explore more ways to overcome overtime by tapping into latent workforce opportunities.