Aim. This paper reports a literature review that aimed to analyse the way in which nursing intensity and patient dependency have been considered to be conceptually similar to nursing workload, and to propose a model to show how these concepts actually differ in both theoretical and practical terms.
Background. The literature on nursing workload considers the concepts of patient ‘dependency’ and nursing ‘intensity’ in the realm of nursing workload. These concepts differ by definition but are used to measure the same phenomenon, i.e. nursing workload.
Method. The literature search was undertaken in 2004 using electronic databases, reference lists and other available literature. Papers were sourced from the Medline, Psychlit, CINAHL and Cochrane databases and through the general search engine Google. The keywords focussed on nursing workload, nursing intensity and patient dependency.
Findings. Nursing work and workload concepts and labels are defined and measured in different and often contradictory ways. It is vitally important to understand these differences when using such conceptualizations to measure nursing workload. A preliminary model is put forward to clarify the relationships between nursing workload concepts.
Conclusion. In presenting a preliminary model of nursing workload, it is hoped that nursing workload might be better understood so that it becomes more visible and recognizable. Increasing the visibility of nursing workload should have a positive impact on nursing workload management and on the provision of patient care.