More Evidence of the Value of Nursing in Patient Outcomes

Over the last decade, research studies have demonstrated that nursing education improves patient outcomes. Among these studies is an article published in Medical Care that shows that higher numbers of nurses with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree decreases patient mortality — in this case, a 10 percent improvement after a 10 percent increase in the number of BSNs. For many years, the exact explanation behind this has been difficult to pinpoint. However, a recent article published by the American Association of Colleges of Nursing draws new conclusions based on data first reported in JAMA Surgery in 2003: improved nursing education leads to positive patient outcomes.

Rescuing High-Risk Patients

People undergoing surgery are among the highest at-risk patients in a hospital setting. Surgical patients often have weakened immune systems, which can make them more susceptible to hospital-acquired infections (HAI). Even simple surgical procedures can cause life-threatening complications. Saving a patient from such a situation requires coordination across the entire medical team and leadership from key personnel like front-line nurses.

Education may help improve patient outcomes in these situations by speeding up lines of communication. When quick action is necessary to rescue a patient, the entire surgical team must work in concert toward a common goal. When all the nurses on the surgical team understand what is happening to a patient physiologically during a crisis, they can all follow the same protocol, which improves rates of saving the patient.

Key Findings

Another JAMA Surgery study revealed two key findings. First, hospitals with improved nursing environments (described as focal hospitals) have a 20 percent lower failure-to-rescue rate than their counterparts without improved environments. Furthermore, patient stays in intensive care units were lower in focal hospitals. Together, the results reinforce the idea that hospitals should encourage higher nursing education as a value proposition. That is, the benefit resulting from improved nursing practice offsets the cost of education. With patient outcomes tied so closely to the value of care, policymakers have compelling reasons to rethink the future of nursing. Popular policy changes include financial aid to support nurses in RN to BSN programs and more stringent nursing requirements for federal agencies like the VA.

The Future of Nursing

In 2010, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) issued a recommendation that all registered nurses (RNs) earn a bachelor’s degree (BSN) — the goal: 80 percent of the U.S. nursing workforce with a BSN by 2020. The “BSN in 10″ initiative supports the IOM’s recommendation. Beyond helping high-risk patients, BSN-prepared nurses can also adapt more quickly to the rapidly changing medical landscape. Nurses with strong communication skills and an understanding of cultural aspects of care can positively affect prevention efforts and encourage patients to follow their healthcare provider’s instructions.

With skyrocketing healthcare costs, an aging baby boomer population and the increase in chronic diseases, the U.S. healthcare system needs cost-effective solutions. Among them is the proposition to encourage the existing nursing workforce to earn bachelor’s degrees because as the research shows, a highly educated nursing workforce greatly improves patient outcomes.

Learn more about the UL Lafayette online RN to BSN program.

NCSBN: National Nursing Workforce Study
AACN: The Impact of Education on Nursing Practice
The JAMA Network: Revisiting Nursing's Effect on Surgical Quality and Cost

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