A new look at a year-old government study confirmed a direct link between the shortage of nurses in hospitals and patient complications and deaths.
Hospitals with low numbers of registered nurses showed a 3% to 9% higher rate of serious complications such as pneumonia, upper gastrointestinal bleeding, shock and cardiac arrest than hospitals well-staffed with RNs, according to the study, which was published in today's issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.
Rates for both urinary tract infections and the length of time spent in the hospital also were higher in hospitals with lower RN staffing. Although researchers found an association between nurse staffing and deaths from more serious complications, they found no evidence of an association between nurse staffing and overall deaths among medical or surgical patients.
The study compared discharge data for 6 million patients in 1997 to nurse staffing levels for RNs, other nurses and aides from 799 hospitals in 11 states. Lead researchers Jack Needleman, assistant professor of economics and health policy at the Harvard School of Public Health, and Peter Buerhaus, senior associate dean for research at the Vanderbilt University School of Nursing, published the original study in April 2001.