Home E-Weekly March 4, 2014

Do Busy Nurses Kill Patients?

Published: March 2, 2014

Patients who are treated by overworked nurses are more likely to die within a month of surgery, according to a team of international investigators.

However, the researchers note, risk of mortality decreases in facilities staffed with higher percentages of nurses with bachelor's degrees.

The study involved the review of discharge data of more than 400,000 surgical patients in order to determine 30-day in-hospital mortality rates. According to the findings, increasing a nurse's workload by 1 patient resulted in a 7% increase in the likelihood of an inpatient dying, although every 10% increase in the number of bachelor's degree nurses on staff lowered death rates by the same percentage.

"These associations imply that patients in hospitals in which 60% of nurses had bachelor's degrees and nurses cared for an average of six patients would have almost 30% lower mortality than patients in hospitals in which only 30% of nurses had bachelor's degrees and nurses cared for an average of eight patients," notes the study.

"Our findings emphasize the risk to patients that could emerge in response to nurse staffing cuts, and suggest that an increased emphasis on bachelor's education for nurses could reduce hospital deaths," says study lead author Linda Aiken, PhD, FAAN, FRCN, RN, a professor of nursing and sociology and director of the center for health outcomes and policy research at the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing in Philadelphia. "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."

Daniel Cook

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