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Nurse Staffing in Acute Care Settings: Research Perspectives and Practice Implications

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Background: The research literature linking nurse staffing and outcomes has expanded radically at a time of profound changes in human resources and financial management in hospitals and health care systems.

Findings: Reviews of more than 100 peer-reviewed studies as of mid-2007 support an association between lower nurse staffing levels and poorer patient outcomes in acute care settings. Research efforts are increasingly aimed at understanding which outcomes are affected and under what circumstances and at evaluating the impact of staffing from an economic point of view. Minimal staffing levels appear to be a necessary but insufficient condition for safety in acute care hospitals.

Conclusions and Implications: In the face of a deepening nursing shortage, many facilities are likely to find that various aspects of staffing, such as coverage, licensure levels, and experience, are lower than those historically in place. Advance planning by staff and supervisors and careful monitoring of outcomes are needed to ensure patient safety. Health care managers and executives need to benchmark staffing levels and nursing-sensitive outcomes in their facilities, carefully analyze recruitment and retention issues, and develop short- and long-term strategies for averting and dealing with the shortfalls in numbers and skill mix of nursing personnel that they will likely face increasingly in the coming decades.

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 2007-11-01

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  • 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.

    David W. Baker, MD, MPH, FACP, executive vice president for the Division of Healthcare Quality Evaluation at The Joint Commission, is the inaugural editor-in-chief of The Joint Commission Journal on Quality and Patient Safety.

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