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Nursing shortage can affect patient survival
The continuing shortage of nurses in the United States has a direct effect on patients’ survival after surgery, according to a new study.
Linda H. Aiken, MD, and colleagues at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia surveyed more than 10,000 staff nurses and reviewed medical data on more than 230,000 general, orthopedic, and vascular surgery patients discharged from one of 168 Pennsylvania hospitals over nearly two years. They found that the patient-to-nurse ratio ranged from less than 4-to-1 to more than 8-to-1. (JAMA 2002; 288:1,987-1,993.)
Aiken says the research revealed a correlation between a higher patient-to-nurse ratio and an increased risk of patient death. For each additional patient per nurse, the risk of dying within 30 days of surgery increased 7%.
The research also revealed high levels of emotional exhaustion and job dissatisfaction among nurses, especially those with the heaviest workloads. Those in hospitals with the highest number of patients per nurse were more than twice as likely to report burnout and were nearly twice as likely to report dissatisfaction with their jobs than the nurses with fewer patients to care for. The authors suggest that improving staffing and reducing nurse turnover ultimately could lower hospital costs in addition to saving lives.
The authors say their findings also support a California law that will go into effect next year mandating that one nurse can care for no more than six patients at once. That law ultimately would require that nurses have no more than five patients under their care.
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