Temporary nurses can often cost hospitals less than permanent staff

Hospital management often views the use of travel or contract nurses as a high-cost alternative to full-time staff, but at least one study appears to debunk that notion. 

The study, conducted by researchers at the University of Rochester in New York and published in the most recent issue of the Journal of Nursing Care Quality, concluded that the judicious use of temporary nurses can actually reduce costs. 

Researchers analyzed staffing data from 665 hospitals throughout the United States due to concerns regarding the use of traveling or temporary nurses and the notion that their presence can erode the quality of care being delivered. That argument was advanced in California in 2011, when traveling nurses filled in during a strike.

The study also analyzed the cost associated with hiring temporary nurses. Previous studies suggested that their use is extremely costly in the United Kingdom, but the researchers found that in the U.S., the extra costs for using temp nurses is often negligible.

The sweet spot occurs primarily when organizations use temporary nurses relatively sparingly. Researchers found hospitals saved the most when they used the temp nurses 0.2 hours per day on average or less. Under those circumstances, the overall cost of nursing per patient day dropped by $6.03. But even if the usage increased to 0.4 hours per day, the cost per patient day was only $2.47, which the study's authors concluded was virtually identical to not using temporary staff at all.

"In addition to not being cost-effective, overtime hours performed by permanent nurses may equate to poor nurse and patient satisfaction," researcher Linda Aiken, with the Center for Health Outcomes and Policy Research, University Pennsylvania, said in a statement issued by the American Staffing Association. "Extensive research indicates that overtime work is connected to nurse burnout, turnover, and poor patient outcomes. The use of supplemental nurses can alleviate these risks."

To learn more:
- check out the study 
- here's the American Staffing Association statement

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