Increasing RN staff saves 6,700 lives and 4 million patient days each year
A study in the January/February 2006 issue of the journal Health Affairs concludes that increasing the number of registered nurses and hours of nursing care per patient would save 6,700 lives and 4 million days of patient care in hospitals each year.
The research by UCLAs Jack Needleman, Ph.D., and Vanderbilt University School of Nursings Peter Buerhaus, Ph.D., R.N., also finds that for hospitals that use both RNs and licensed practical nurses (LPNs), greater use of RNs appears to pay for itself in fewer patient deaths, reduced lengths of hospital stay, and decreased rates of hospital-linked complications such as urinary arrest and upper gastrointestinal bleeding.
Needleman and Buerhaus conclude that increasing the proportion of RNs would require hospitals below the 75th benchmark to replace more than 37,000 LPNs with RNs, at a cost of $811 million. However, this option also held the most benefits to hospitals and patients alike.
"From a hospitals perspective, increasing nurse staffing is costly. Nevertheless, greater use of RNs in preference to LPNs appears to pay for itself," the authors say.
The cost of changing the RN/LPN mix without changing licensed hours is low relative to other options and the authors estimate such a move would save $242 million over the short-term and $1.8 billion over time. Increasing nurses in hospitals with licensed hours below that in the top quarter of hospitals would require 114,456 more RNs and more than 13,000 LPNs at a cost of $7.5 billion, and would end up saving $5.8 billion. Increasing hours and raising the proportion of nurses who are RNs would require 158,000 more RNs, cost $8.5 billion and result in a $5.7 billion savings according to the study.
"These costs are not that high and for the benefits obtained, warrant serious consideration by policy makers, quality assurance agencies, and others concerned with the quality of care," the authors add.
Kathy Rivers | EurekAlert!
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