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Keywords:

  • Hospital discharge;
  • discharge readiness;
  • readmission;
  • emergency department utilization;
  • cost

Objectives. To determine the impact of unit-level nurse staffing on quality of discharge teaching, patient perception of discharge readiness, and postdischarge readmission and emergency department (ED) visits, and cost-benefit of adjustments to unit nurse staffing.

Data Sources. Patient questionnaires, electronic medical records, and administrative data for 1,892 medical–surgical patients from 16 nursing units within four acute care hospitals between January and July 2008.

Design. Nested panel data with hospital and unit-level fixed effects and patient and unit-level control variables.

Data Collection/Extraction. Registered nurse (RN) staffing was recorded monthly in hours-per-patient-day. Patient questionnaires were completed before discharge. Thirty-day readmission and ED use with reimbursement data were obtained by cross-hospital electronic searches.

Principal Findings. Higher RN nonovertime staffing decreased odds of readmission (OR=0.56); higher RN overtime staffing increased odds of ED visit (OR=1.70). RN nonovertime staffing reduced ED visits indirectly, via a sequential path through discharge teaching quality and discharge readiness. Cost analysis projected total savings from 1 SD increase in RN nonovertime staffing and decrease in RN overtime of U.S.$11.64 million and U.S.$544,000 annually for the 16 study units.

Conclusions. Postdischarge utilization costs could potentially be reduced by investment in nursing care hours to better prepare patients before hospital discharge.