Nurse Retention and Patient Safety: Decreasing Nurse Workloads Save Lives

Written by LeAnn Thieman, CSP, September 23rd, 2014

Patients who’ve undergone common surgical procedures are less likely to survive if they are treated in hospitals where nurses have heavier workloads and fewer have a bachelor’s degree, according to a new European study. These findings are important for facilities wanting to increase patient safety and nurse retention.

The findings, published in The Lancet, suggest that “a safe level of hospital nursing staff might help to reduce surgical mortality, and challenge the widely held view that nurses’ experience is more important than their education,” the study’s leader, Linda Aiken, a professor from the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing.

Nurse Retention Researchers examined surveys of more than 26,500 nurses and reviewed the medical records of more than 420,000 patients 50 or older after they went home from the hospital following common surgical procedures, such as a joint replacement or gall bladder surgery. The researchers also considered the patients’ age, sex, type of surgery and whether they had any other medical conditions to assess their individual risk of death. After taking these factors into account, the study analyzed how the level of nurses’ education affected patient outcomes at 300 hospitals across nine European countries.

The study authors found that each additional patient added to a nurse’s workload increased the odds of surgical patients dying within 30 days of surgery by 7 percent. On the other hand, the findings revealed that a 10 percent increase in the proportion of nurses with a bachelor’s degree was linked to a 7 percent drop in patients’ risk of death.

The study also revealed that nurse workload and education levels varied greatly from one country to the next. The researchers suggested that there would be a nearly 30 percent reduction in the risk of death after surgery in hospitals where nurses care for an average of six patients instead of eight, and the proportion of nurses with bachelor’s degrees is at least 60 percent.

“Our findings emphasize the risk to patients that could emerge in response to nurse staffing cuts under recent austerity measures, and suggest that an increased emphasis on bachelor’s education for nurses could reduce hospital deaths,” Aiken said.

Research proves we need more nurses. To learn proven strategies for nurse retention, nurse recruitment and how to improve patient safety, visit Let’s talk today about how I can partner with your facility!

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