The Impact of Nursing Workloads on Patients
Study after study has shown that nurses around the world are burdened with heavy workloads. This is largely a result of under-staffing, which is caused by a variety of different factors, including an increase in demand for nurses as the population ages, an inadequate supply of available nurses, deliberately reduced staffing and increased overtime intended to reduce costs, and more acute patient needs due to shorter hospital stays.
A report from the Canadian Federation of Nurses Unions (CFNU), Nursing Workload and Patient Care: Understanding the value of nurses, the effects of excessive workload and how nurse-patient ratios and dynamic staffing models can help, cited the statistic that for every surgical patient added to a nurse’s workload, the odds of a patient dying under that nurse’s care increased by 7%.
High nurse workloads also correlated to higher infection rates, increased incidences of readmission, more patient falls, longer patient stays, diminished ability of nurses to assess and observe potentially fatal medical complications in their patients, and lower patient satisfaction.
The nurses also experience adverse effects from excessive workloads. A 2007 study found that each additional patient assigned to a nurse led to a 23% increase in the risk of nurse-reported burnout and a 15% increase in job dissatisfaction, in part due to frustration that they could not adequately care for their patients.
What can be done to fix this problem? The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality suggests that state-mandated nurse staffing levels are a possible answer. California’s minimum nurse-to-patient staffing ratios have resulted in fewer patient deaths and higher levels of nurse job satisfaction.
Becker’s Hospital Review suggests employee engagement and recognition programs to help skilled nurses remain engaged. Lest that sound like an inadequate adjustment, the article goes on to recommend outsourcing various tasks such as post-discharge follow-up to lighten nursing workloads.
The New England Journal of Medicine discussed the issue of nurse staffing and concluded, “…providing sufficient resources to ensure that staffing is adequate and paying close attention to patient transfers and other factors that have a major effect on workload should become an active part of daily conversations among nurses, physicians, and hospital leaders in planning for the care of their patients.”
Until there is significant overhaul of the system that causes nurse overwork to be such a common problem, nurses are best advised to do what they can to combat job stress, work to minimize the toll that shift work can take, and make sure they’re covered with a quality Professional Liability Insurance policy.