Managing Unnecessary Variability in Patient Demand to Reduce Nursing Stress and Improve Patient Safety

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Abstract:

Background: Increases in adverse clinical outcomes have been documented when hospital nurse staffing is inadequate. Since most hospitals limit nurse staffing to levels for average rather than peak patient census, substantial census increases create serious potential stresses for both patients and nurses. By reducing unnecessary variability, hospitals can reduce many of these stresses and thereby improve patient safety and quality of care.

The Source and Nature of Variability in Demand: The variability in the daily patient census is a combination of the natural (uncontrollable) variability contributed by the emergency department and the artificial (potentially controllable) peaks and valleys of patient flow into the hospital from elective admissions. Once artificial variability in demand is significantly reduced, a substantial portion of the peaks and valleys in census disappears; the remaining census variability is largely patient and disease driven. When artificial variability has been minimized, a hospital must have sufficient resources for the remaining patient-driven peaks in demand, over which it has no control, if it is to deliver an optimal level of care.

Discussion: Study of operational issues in health care delivery, and acting on what is learned, is critical. All forms of artificial variation in the demand and supply of health care services should be identified, and pilot programs to test operational changes should be conducted.

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: June 1, 2005

More about this publication?
  • Published monthly, The Joint Commission Journal on Quality and Patient Safety is a peer-reviewed publication dedicated to providing health professionals with the information they need to promote the quality and safety of health care. The Joint Commission Journal on Quality and Patient Safety invites original manuscripts on the development, adaptation, and/or implementation of innovative thinking, strategies, and practices in improving quality and safety in health care. Case studies, program or project reports, reports of new methodologies or new applications of methodologies, research studies on the effectiveness of improvement interventions, and commentaries on issues and practices are all considered.

    Also known as Joint Commission Journal on Quality Improvement and Joint Commission Journal on Quality and Safety
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