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How Does the Nursing Shortage Affect Patient Care?

How does the nursing shortage affect patient care? First of all, nurses are critical to our overall healthcare system. In fact, nurses make up the largest section of the health profession. They spend the most one-on-one time with patients compared to all other healthcare professionals. 

The United States is in the midst of a nursing shortage. As stated by the American Nurses Association, there will be more registered nurse jobs available through 2022 than any other profession. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics projects there will be an additional 11 million nurses needed to steer clear from a further shortage.

The nursing shortage has resulted in nurse burnout, unsafe nurse-to-patient ratios, long hours, overtime, and stressful conditions and work environments. This produces a domino effect where patient care suffers, showing how crucial nurses are for patients to receive quality care.

Why Is There a Nursing Shortage in the U.S.?

With a high demand and low supply, there are numerous factors and reasons for the U.S. nursing shortage. All are issues of concern. 

  • Lack of potential educators and nursing school faculty.
  • High turnover rates.
  • Insufficient staffing ratios and inequitable workforce distribution.
  • The baby boomer generation, which makes up the highest number of Americans over the age of 65. There’s an increased need for health services in the aging population.
  • The population is surviving longer due to medical advances, but the number of people with chronic conditions heightens demand.
  • The surge of nurses retiring from the workforce.
  • Nurse burnout with physical and emotional exhaustion.
  • Violence in the healthcare setting with emotional and physical abuse.
  • The opioid epidemic.
  • Budget constraints.

While the nursing shortage began long before the pandemic, it brought the nursing shortage into the spotlight. The pandemic created an increase in nurses leaving the profession and opting for early retirement. 

Healthcare facilities are facing the overwhelming challenge of searching for and retaining skilled nurses. This is happening all while patient care is continuing to suffer.

Nurse holding patient's hand

How Does the Nursing Shortage Affect Patient Care?

When the overall healthcare system has a nursing shortage, healthcare facilities see patient care negatively affected first-hand. Nurses are one of the most integral parts of healthcare. Whenever nurses face a challenge, the quality of patient care suffers.

Higher Patient Mortality

There’s a direct link between patient mortality, or risk of death, and a shortage of nurses. Facilities with fewer nurses tend to witness a 2-7% increase in mortality. When there are fewer nurses caring for patients, there’s reduced patient safety, more medical errors, and failure-to-rescue situations.

Reduced Patient Safety 

When overworked nurses are unable to focus on tasks properly because there’s not enough staff, time, or resources, they may bypass safety protocols. There’s missed nursing care, unanswered call lights, a rise in hospital readmission rates with postoperative complications, more hospital infections, and a greater number of falls.

Medical Errors

The nursing shortage results in an increased workload for nurses, making them fatigued and stressed. This predictably increases errors and makes nurses more prone to mistakes, overlooking details or taking shortcuts. Errors like infusing medications at the wrong rate, administering incorrect doses, or mixing up patients can lead to fatal consequences. 

Overcrowded Emergency Departments

A lack of nurses leads to emergency departments backed up and overfull. A shortage of nurses causes facilities to run behind. This results in an increased length of stay for patients, sometimes having to wait hours before receiving care. This can lead to a longer duration of hospitalization with additional procedures required, and even permanent disability or mortality. 

Less Time with Patients

An increase in nurse-to-patient ratios from the nursing shortage results in shorter patient visits. Combined with nurse burnout and compassion fatigue, nurses are unable to give patients their full attention.

Patients unfortunately end up overlooked and neglected at times. The pressure of a heavy workload leads to an inadequate amount of time to perform patient tasks. There’s reduced job performance, incomplete communication, less engagement with patients, and poor treatment outcomes.

Decrease in Patient Satisfaction

The nursing shortage compromises the welfare of patients. There’s a decrease in patient satisfaction as quality of care diminishes, and patients begin to lose confidence in the facility.

The main factors that contribute to this are nurses not having enough time to give and ineffective coordination with the treatment team. 

Nurse talking to patient

Healthcare Facilities, Partner with nurseIO and Connect with Per Diem Nurses

Skilled nurses are necessary for healthcare systems to function optimally and for patients to receive top-notch care. These examples convey an adequate picture of how important it is to address this problem. 

With the nursing shortage crisis only growing, the nurseIO platform is a solution for understaffed facilities. 

Healthcare facilities can fill shifts quickly by uploading their open schedules to the nurseIO platform, while independent contractor nurses accept open shifts in real-time from the nurseIO app. This way facilities can focus on caring for patients first! Get in touch with nurseIO!

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