To reduce the shortage of available staff nurses, hospitals have hired temporary "travel" nurses without fully knowing the effect on patient outcomes. However, a new study has concluded hiring extra nurses may actually save lives.
After examining data from more than 1.3 million patients and 40,000 nurses in more than 600 hospitals, researchers from the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing have concluded that the use of such supplemental nurses "does not appear to have deleterious consequences for patient mortality."
"Our study showed these nurses could be lifesavers. Hiring temporary nurses can alleviate shortages that could produce higher patient mortality," said Linda H. Aiken, PhD, RN, a professor of sociology and nursing and director of the Center for Health Outcomes and Policy Research (CHOPR).
The study authors concluded that poor patient outcomes thought associated with hospital hiring of temporary nurses are more likely the result of poor working conditions within the hospitals themselves than with the nurses hired to alleviate shortages.
"Hospital executives and managers who employ large numbers of supplemental nurses should evaluate whether deficiencies in work environments in their institutions are adversely impacting the success in attracting and retaining qualified permanent nurses, as well as possibly adversely affecting patient outcomes," wrote Aiken as lead author. CHOPR research has long established a link between adding patients to a nurse's workload (above four patients) and potential risk of mortality to the patient. Extending hospital shifts has also been associated with nurse burnout.
The study was based on data collected in California, Florida, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania and was funded by the National Institute of Nursing Research of the National Institutes of Health, the American Nurses Foundation, and the American Staffing Association Foundation.
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