Penn researcher to study impact of changing nursing practices on patient health

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    How do changes in hospital nursing practices affect patient health? That’s the subject of a multimillion-dollar study from the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing.



    Linda Aiken, director of the Center for Health Outcomes and Policy Research at the nursing school, has been studying the relationship between nursing practices and patient outcomes for more than a decade. She says nurses are “the surveillance system,” so to speak, for the early detection of problems in hospitals.

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    “They are the infrastructure for quality,” she said, “the building block for everything else that happens.”

    If nursing is poor, patient health suffers.

    These days, that might cost hospitals, as insurers and the government begin to incorporate patient outcomes into how it reimburses health facilities for services.

    In the past, Aiken has found that hospitals and nursing homes with good nursing ratios, higher nurse education levels and more responsive management provide better care. But, she’s only studied the measures at single points in time.

    “We don’t really know that if then hospitals were to improve their nurse staffing, which is costly, could they actually expect their outcomes to improve,” she said.

    Aiken recently secured $3 million in National Institutes of Health funds to study what happens to patients when hospitals, nursing homes and home care agencies do make changes in nursing compared with those that don’t.

    She’s focusing on four states: Pennsylvania, New Jersey, California and Florida. The research will span several years and involve surveying about 350,000 nurses, starting in January.

    The project is also being supplemented by funds from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and Rita and Alex Hillman Foundation.

    This disclosure: RWJF supports health reporting on WHYY.

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