Alternative Models of Nurse Staffing May Be Dangerous in High-Stakes Hospital Care

Med Care. 2024 Jul 1;62(7):434-440. doi: 10.1097/MLR.0000000000001990. Epub 2024 Jun 7.


BACKGROUND: Hospitals are resurrecting the outdated “team nursing” model of staffing that substitutes lower-wage staff for registered nurses (RNs).

OBJECTIVES: To evaluate whether reducing the proportion of RNs to total nursing staff in hospitals is in the best interest of patients, hospitals, and payers.

RESEARCH DESIGN: Cross-sectional, retrospective.

SUBJECTS: In all, 6,559,704 Medicare patients in 2676 general acute-care US hospitals in 2019.

MEASURES: Patient outcomes: in-hospital and 30-day mortality, 30-day readmission, length of stay, and patient satisfaction. Avoidable Medicare costs associated with readmissions and cost savings to hospitals associated with shorter stays are projected.

RESULTS: A 10 percentage-point reduction in RNs was associated with 7% higher odds of in-hospital death, 1% higher odds of readmission, 2% increase in expected days, and lower patient satisfaction. We estimate a 10 percentage-point reduction in RNs would result in 10,947 avoidable deaths annually and 5207 avoidable readmissions, which translates into roughly $68.5 million in additional Medicare costs. Hospitals would forgo nearly $3 billion in cost savings annually because of patients requiring longer stays.

CONCLUSIONS: Reducing the proportion of RNs in hospitals, even when total nursing personnel hours are kept the same, is likely to result in significant avoidable patient deaths, readmissions, longer lengths of stay, and decreased patient satisfaction, in addition to excess Medicare costs and forgone cost savings to hospitals. Estimates represent only a 10 percentage-point dilution in skill mix; however, the team nursing model includes much larger reductions of 40-50 percentage-points-the human and economic consequences of which could be substantial.

PMID:38848137 | DOI:10.1097/MLR.0000000000001990

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