Understaffed units associated with higher patient mortality

When the number of nurses falls below target levels, patient mortality rises, concludes research that could shift the debate about nurse staffing levels in U.S. healthcare facilities. 

Researchers from the UCLA School of Public Health, Mayo Clinic and Vanderbilt University found that a patient's risk of death climbs 2 percent when units are understaffed with registered nurses. And when nurses' workloads increase because of a high volume of admissions, discharges and transfers, the mortality risk jumps 4 percent.

"Hospitals need to know what their nursing needs are for their patients, and they need to bring staffing into line," said lead author Jack Needleman. The study, which analyzed data from 198,000 admitted patients and 177,000 nursing shifts at one hospital over four years, was published today in the New England Journal of Medicine.

"It moves it away from questioning whether nurse staffing impacts patient outcomes, to focusing on the most effective ways to deliver nursing care and how current and emerging payment systems can reward hospitals' efforts to ensure adequate staffing," said Marcelline Harris, a senior associate consultant in biomedical informatics at the Mayo Clinic and principal investigator of the current study.

Researchers believe the findings apply to all hospitals and highlight the importance of hospital management and proper nursing staffing levels to providing quality patient care.

For more:
- read the Health Day article
- here's the Mayo Clinic press release