Study: Hospitals need more docs for lower death rates

A U.K. study has found hospitals currently under review for having high death rates employ fewer doctors per patient than other facilities, The Telegraph reported.

Plymouth University researchers examined staffing at 14 hospital trusts with high death rates that are now being investigated by NHS Medical Director Sir Bruce Keogh. These poorly performing hospitals have an average of 17 percent fewer doctors per 100 beds and 5 percent fewer nurses than those not under investigation.

On average, the hospitals under review have 56 doctors per 100 beds, compared to 68 doctors at other hospitals.

Reinforcing the study findings, Brian Jarman, an expert on hospital death rates and a member of Sir Bruce's review panel, told the Telegraph lower mortality levels are "very strongly" correlated with more doctors per bed.

While the study hails from the U.K., it could have implications for the United States, which has been facing a looming physician shortage. In fact, experts warn the predicted shortage of physicians will remain unless the number of federally funded residencies increases from levels frozen since 1997.

U.S. research has suggested similar links between staffing levels and safe care. For example, a January JAMA Internal Medicine study showed hospitalists with excess patient encounters reported ordering unnecessary tests and worsened patient satisfaction and overall care quality. Moreover, nurse staffing levels can jeopardize their ability to perform safely, according to a survey commissioned by Kronos Incorporated that found inadequate staffing and excessive workloads led to fatigue-related errors.

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