Experienced nurses shorten length of stay, improve patient outcomes

More experienced nurses deliver better patient care and shorten length of stay, according to a study published in the American Economic Journal: Applied Economics.

As experienced nurses leave, hospitals hire new nurses and temporary contract nurses, both of which significantly decrease productivity more than is attributable to changes in nurses' skills and experience, wrote researchers from Columbia University School of Nursing and Columbia Business School in the research, "Human Capital and Productivity in a Team Environment: Evidence from the Healthcare Sector."

Patients get the best care when treated in units staffed with nurses who have extensive experience in their current job, according to a study announcement.

Researchers examined 900,000 patient admission medical records over four years at Veterans Administration Healthcare System hospitals and compared them against payroll records for each nurse to see how staffing changes affected patients' lengths of stay. The study found that a one-year increase in RNs' average tenure on a hospital unit was associated with a 1.3 percent decrease in length of stay, according to the announcement.

Researchers found paying staff RNs overtime to work more hours on a unit is more cost-effective than relying on temporary staffing agencies to fill RN vacancies. Staffing RNs, as opposed to unlicensed assistive personnel, also shortened lengths of stay, but those numbers increased when a member of the nursing team left or the team got a new member, according to the announcement.

"Reducing length of stay is the holy grail of hospital management because it means patients are getting higher quality, more cost-effective care," senior study author Patricia Stone, Ph.D., R.N., centennial professor of health policy at Columbia Nursing, said in the announcement. "When the same team of nurses works together over the years, the nurses develop a rhythm and routines that lead to more efficient care. Hospitals need to keep this in mind when making staffing decisions--disrupting the balance of a team can make quality go down and costs go up."

To learn more:
- here's the study abstract
- read the announcement