Lower Nurse to Patient Ratio Could Prevent Hundreds of Medical Mistakes a Year in Pennsylvania

An article in yesterday’s New York Times discussed an interesting study that found that lower nurse to patient ratios in hospitals may prevent unnecessary medical mistakes and improve patient safety.

The article entitled “Implications of the California Nurse Staffing Mandate for Other States” was published in the Health Services Research April 2010 journal.  It compared the outcomes of more than a million patients in three states: California, New Jersey and Pennsylvania.  California was the only one of the three states to limit the nurses in medical-surgical units to five patients at a time.  In New Jersey and Pennsylvania the average case load for surgical nurses is more than six patients at time.

According to the study, simply lowering the surgical nurse to patient ratio would have prevented 225 hospital deaths in New Jersey and 200 hospital deaths in Pennsylvania in 2005-2006 alone.  That means that 13.9% fewer patients in New Jersey and 10.6% fewer patients in Pennsylvania would have died in general surgery. 

Thus, it is a study worth considering when staffing decisions are made that could prevent medical mistakes and save lives.