July 7, 2021

Study: Hospital nurse staffing standards save lives, lower costs

By: Judy Mathias

Editor's Note

This study led by Linda H. Aiken, PhD, from the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing, Philadelphia, finds that establishing safe nurse staffing standards in hospitals in Chile could save lives, prevent readmissions, shorten hospital stays, and reduce costs.

The researchers collected data from 1,652 nurses practicing in 40 Chilean hospitals and analyzed discharge data for 761, 948 inpatients.

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Among the findings:

  • On average, nurses in Chile care for 14 patients each, compared to 5 patients each in the US. Some Chilean hospitals’ patient to nurse ratios were as high as 24 patients per nurse.
  • Hospitals where nurses were responsible for 18 patients each had a 41% higher risk of death, 20% higher risk of being readmitted, 41% higher risk of staying longer, and 68% lower odds of rating the hospital highly, compared to hospitals where nurses cared for 8 patients each.
  • Improving nurse staffing to 10 patients per nurse could save more than $29 million a year from avoided hospital days, which would more than pay for the cost of employing the 1,118 additional nurses needed.

Chile has an excellent nurse education system that graduates more than 6,000 nurses per year, all with bachelor’s degrees. The findings from this study suggest that Chile has the resources and means to improve nurse staffing to enhance access to high quality hospital care, the researchers say.


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