The highest level of the health care shortage is in primary care doctors. Though the federal government has been pushing for increased primary care physician presence, their efforts have failed. Primary care physicians have been decreasing faster and faster every year since the 1970s.
Many hospitals have found the solution for the lack of primary care physicians: nurses. Nurses, and especially those with advanced training like nurse practitioners and clinical nurse specialists, provide much of the same care as doctors, at lower price and with less education, as reported by the Yale Journal on Regulation.
Both the lay community and members of the health care sector are attributing major hospital mortality problems to the nursing shortage. In a 2005 edition of Nursing Economic$, researchers found that more than half of registered nurses and CNOs (Chief Nursing Officers) think that reduced staffing is causing a decrease in the quality of care in hospitals and other health care centers. Over 90% of registered nurses complained about overstaffing causing poor patient care. On the other hand, 40% of American citizens have criticized the health care sector, claiming that between 1999 and 2004, quality of hospital care has sunk, citing stress, understaffing and lessened individual care as major factors in the condition of health care.
A study by The New England Journal of Medicine in 2002 tested the hypothesis that low nurse staffing levels will increase the number of deaths and complications in patients. After examining almost 800 hospitals in eleven states, the research team concluded that higher numbers of nursing care hours shortened the day, reduced risk of infection, pneumonia, heart attack and 'failure to rescue.' Additionally, surgical patients who saw their nurses more regularly had decreased urinary tract infections and increased rates of success after surgery. Overall, the study proved that increasing coverage of patients by upping the number of nurses on staff will lead to better health care in hospital patients.
A further study in Health Services Research and the Journal of Nursing Administration went on to study the effects of education on mortality rates. The research teams found that hospitals that staff nurses who graduated from baccalaureate programs had lower rates of mortality and 'failure to rescue' than did hospitals who staffed nurses with a lower level of education.
The study of mortalities as a consequence of the nursing shortage has been the most frightening of all. In 2002, the Journal of the American Medical Association came forward with research on the benefits of increasing nursing staff. Thousands of lives would be saved a year by simple changes in hiring. At the University of Pennsylvania, where the research was conducted, the team found that a hospital with a low ratio of nurses to patients, patients are almost a third more likely to die than in hospitals that are adequately staffed. Every patient added to a nurse's daily workload in the surgery ward increases the chance of death by 7%.
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