Research has backed up with statistics what many doctors, patients and hospitals already know: additional nursing helps patients get well sooner.
It doesn't seem like it would take a research study to determine that more attention from nurses helps patients recover from surgery quicker and with fewer medical complications.
A study published last week in the nursing journal Image only confirms statistically what almost any patient or family member of a patient would say. Those people know that nurses are their first line of communication and medical response. They know that because of the time they spend with a patient, nurses often are in a far better position than doctors to detect certain problems.
The Image study focuses specifically on post-surgical treatment and quantifies several tangible benefits from additional nursing hours. For instance, an extra hour of nursing attention per surgical patient each day cut the risk of a patient getting a urinary tract infection by nearly 10 percent and the risk of pneumonia by 8 percent, noted the study conducted by a research arm of the federal Health and Human Services Department. The incidence of lung-related problems and blood clots also dropped with extra nursing.
A nursing journal obviously has a sympathetic audience for the study's results, but hospital administrators also should be taking note. Pushed by the need to reduce their costs, many hospitals are cutting back on registered nurses and replacing them with less-skilled workers. Efforts to operate more economically are laudable, but reducing nursing staff apparently will have a tangible effect on the quality of care patients receive.
Most doctors do their best to give good patient care, but they are extremely busy and depend on nurses to monitor patients' condition. A patient may see his or her doctor -- or perhaps a partner or junior colleague -- briefly once a day. The nurses who monitor those patients for hours at a time, often for days at a stretch, are in a far better position to recognize subtle changes in their condition or symptoms.
Doctors know this; hospitals know this. But it's good to have the statistics to back up the observation that money spent on nursing hours has a direct benefit to patient care.