A US study has found that nurse-to-patient ratios not only improved patient outcomes – they did so at little financial cost to the health system.
The study, led by Dr Karen Lasater RN PHD, found that hospitals with better staffing levels recouped the added costs of staffing by having significantly lower lengths of admissions and lengths of stay.
The study analysed readmissions, mortality rates and lengths of stay for patients admitted for acute myocardial infarction, congestive heart failure, pneumonia, stroke, or sepsis at 306 American hospitals.
After accounting for differences in patient status and acuity, the researchers found a cost difference $18,848 per patient for those in hospitals with proper staffing ratios, versus a cost of $18,671 per patient at those without them. This presented an insignificant cost difference between the two cohorts.
However, hospitals without staffing ratios exhibited notably higher rates of patient mortality and readmissions. They also had lengthier hospital stays on average.
In particular, patients admitted for sepsis had a 2% greater mortality rate at understaffed hospitals compared to those who attended hospitals with safe ratios
The costs of readmissions and hospital stays thus counteracted any financial benefit derived from cutting staff.
University of Pennsylvania’s Aaron Glickman lauded the results of the study, indicating it as a reason to mandate nurse-to-patient ratios in hospitals.
“Prior literature made the quality case for better nursing clear. This study bolsters the economic case,” Glickman said.
“When hospitals invest in their nurses, patients benefit, with no net increase in costs. That’s a powerful value proposition.”