Do you know who spends much more time with the patient during the day than the physicians? (Perhaps more than anyone else in the hospital, often!) The answer is the nurse helping care for the patient. It may be intuitive, then, that a nurse who is more available, and who can invest more time with a patient, can help prevent bad patient outcomes. Perhaps it's being there to catch a patient who is falling, or noticing a wound infection earlier, or just having time to carefully check (and re-check) all important factors before administering a medication. Whatever the reason, probabilities conspire to make it so that appropriate nurse staffing levels make for, in many cases, improved outcomes.
Why not, then, staff the heck out of hospitals? Why not have nurses as far as the eye can see? First, there's the well-known (and perhaps worsening) nursing shortage. And, second (did you know?), staffing costs are more than 60% of the costs associated with running a hospital! Other factors include the level of patient acuity, and how that varies from one hospital to another.
Bottom line: using benchmarks for appropriate, safe levels of nurse staffing is key in achieving excellent patient outcomes. For more info on outcomes and costs associated with nurse staffing levels, click on the link beneath.
MYTH #1: THERE IS NO DIRECT LINK BETWEEN MANDATED NURSE STAFFING RATIOS AND IMPROVED PATIENT OUTCOMES. FACT: THE NUMBER OF PATIENTS ASSIGNED TO A NURSE HAS A DIRECT IMPACT ON ABILITY TO APPROPRIATELY ASSESS, MONITOR, CARE FOR, AND SAFELY DISCHARGE OUR PATIENTS. Hospitals which routinely staff with 1:8 nurse-to patient ratios experience five additional deaths per 1,000 patients than those staffing with 1:4 nurse-to-patient ratios (Journal of the American Medical Association, 2002). The odds of patient death increases by 7% for each additional patient the nurse takes on at one time (Journal of the American Medical Association, 2002). Outcomes are better for patients when staffing levels meet those established in California. Research demonstrates lives are saved, quality of care is improved and hospital stays are shorter in other states, when hospitals meet the CA staffing benchmarks (Health Services Research, 2010).