How Inadequate Medical Staffing Affects Patients
If you’ve ever spent any significant amount of time in the workforce, odds are that at one time or another, you’ve ended up with more work than you can handle. Maybe some of your coworkers called out sick and you needed to cover for them, or maybe you ended getting a big assignment that needed to be done ASAP, on top of your other workload. If this has ever happened to you, you know exactly how frustrating it can be. With so much to do, it’s a struggle to make sure everything gets done and when you’re not able to spend as much time on each task, it’s easy for mistakes to happen.
Inadequate staffing causes problems in any industry, but when it happens with healthcare, the results can be dangerous, even deadly. When most people think of medical malpractice and medical errors, they often think of things like wrong-site surgeries, a wrong diagnosis, or improper sterilization of medical tools, but inadequate medical staffing levels can be every bit as dangerous.
Most nurses genuinely care about their patients and never intentionally want to harm any of them, but when the nurse-patient ratio gets too high, it’s simply too easy for mistakes to happen. When there are so many patients who need attention and not enough nurses to go around, even the most dedicated nurse simply doesn’t have the time or energy to give every patient all the time and attention they need.
Asking a nurse to take on “just one more patient” may not seem like a big request for a hospital to make, but studies have shown that it really can have a big impact. One important study from 2002 found that for every additional patient a nurse has to take care of, the patient has a 7% higher chance of dying within 30 days of being admitted to the hospital. Failure-to-rescue rates also go up by 7%. If a nurse has eight patients to care for instead of four, the odds that their patients could die within 30 days grows by an astonishing 31%.
Another study from 2016 found that patients in hospitals with poor staffing levels were 16% more likely to die of cardiac arrest. A separate study from 2015 found that for every additional patient assigned to a nurse, the odds that CPR will be successfully administered go down by 5%. Lower nurse-patient ratios have also been associated with lower patient mortality rates in ICU units.
There’s also the simple fact that good medical staffing levels are essential for maintaining positive employee morale, In a hospital setting, good employee morale is good for patients. Poor staffing levels leave nurses feeling exhausted, both physically and mentally, and when nurses get burned out, it’s even more likely for medical errors to happen. Studies have shown that for every additional patient assigned to a nurse, the nurse has a 23% higher risk of experiencing job burnout. Adequate healthcare staffing helps nurses feel less stressed, more well rested, and gives them higher levels of job satisfaction. When nurses are rested and happy with their jobs and don’t feel burned out, they’re able to provide a higher level of care to their patients. 30% of nurses typically report feeling burned out on the job, but a study of Pennsylvania hospitals from 2012 found that if hospitals could reduce that number to 10%, 4,160 hospital-acquired infections could be prevented every year.
Not only do good healthcare staffing levels allow nurses to provide better care for patients while they’re in the hospital, it makes it possible for them to make sure the patient continues to recover well once they leave. A 2011 study by Marquette University found that adequate staffing was linked to lower readmission rates within 30 days because nurses are better able to do more effective discharge planning.
All these studies just go to show that adequate staffing levels in hospitals are a win-win situation for everyone involved.