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Experienced Tenure Nurses Tied to Higher Quality Care

Update Date: Apr 14, 2014 11:27 AM EDT

A new study is reporting that a nurse's tenure can greatly affect the type of care patients receive. The researchers from the Columbia University School of Nursing and Columbia Business School found that longer nurse tenure and good teamwork between the medical professionals lead to a higher quality of care.

For this study, the research team reviewed over 900,000 patient admissions at hospitals tied to the Veterans Administration Healthcare System. The data spanned over four years and included medical files for each patient. The researchers also examined any changes in the nursing staff and their effects on patient care. Information on nurses' payrolls was also available.

"Reducing length of stay is the holy grail of hospital management because it means patients are getting higher quality, more cost-effective care," explained senior study author, Patricia Stone, PhD, RN, FAAN, Centennial Professor of Health Policy at Columbia Nursing, in the press release. "When the same team of nurses works together over the years, the nurses develop a rhythm and routines that lead to more efficient care. Hospitals need to keep this in mind when making staffing decisions - disrupting the balance of a team can make quality go down and costs go up."

The researchers calculated that for every one-year increase in the nurses' average tenure at a particular hospital, patients experienced a 1.3 percent decrease, on average, in the amount of time they had to stay. The researchers also found that it was more cost effective for hospitals to pay their RNs (registered nurses) overtime work hours instead of hiring nurses from temporary staffing agencies. The researchers also noted that a nurse's experience affected quality of care as well.

"This rigorous econometric analysis of nurse staffing shows that hospital chief executives should be considering policies to retain the most experienced nurses and create a work environment that encourages nurses to remain on their current units," stated the senior economist on the study team, Ann Bartel, PhD, Merrill Lynch Professor of Workforce Transformation at Columbia Business School.

The study, "Human Capital and Productivity in a Team Environment: Evidence from the Healthcare Sector," was published in the American Economics Journal: Applied Economics.

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