Nurses have a tremendous impact on patient outcomes whether the patient is receiving care in a Spokane ER or a rehabilitation hospital in rural Kentucky, and while nurses of all education levels work hard on the frontlines of health care, some fascinating research is showing over and over that better educated nurses mean healthier patients. According to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN), “education enhances both clinical competency and care delivery.” From lower patient mortality to lower infection rates, here are six ways patients do better when the nurses providing their care are better educated.
1. Lower Patient Mortality
Dozens of studies from around the world have shown a lowered patient mortality associated with nurses who go beyond the RN to the BSN. Facilities saw just a 10 percent increase in nurses who were baccalaureate-prepared, their patient mortality decreased by as much as 9 percent to 11 percent, whether that facility was in South Korea, Canada, or the U.S. This research is part of the reason why many hospitals are working toward a goal of having 80 percent of their nursing staff be in possession of at least the BSN degree by 2020.
2. More Integrated Health Care
Modern medicine is highly specialized, which can mean exceptional care when it’s provided in a well-integrated manner or disjointed care if it is not. Because demands on nurses within all settings continue to grow due to more and more complex delivery systems, a better educated nursing staff is essential to providing more integrated and streamlined health care for patients all across the spectrum of care. Nurses need to function as full members of a health care team so that by understanding the myriad ways in which treatment, care, and the intricacies of disease can affect a patient’s health and outcome, they can offer the patient care and team assistance that ensures higher quality outcomes. More education and training can help nurses do this more effectively.
3. Fewer Complications
A study funded by INQRI (Interdisciplinary Nursing Quality Research Initiative) focused on 100 NICUs around the United States to see what effect a better-educated nursing staff operating at full levels would have on this vulnerable population’s outcomes. Babies tended by teams of nurses with better education and more support had fewer complications than babies tended by less educated nurses who lacked adequate support, which led the study’s authors to conclude that education plays a vital role in lowering complications among patients.
4. Lower Infection Rates
The risk of infection is a major problem in many health care settings, especially infections that are hospital-acquired. Studies have shown that when nurses are better educated, infection rates go down — even in high-risk places like the ICU and NICU.
5. Better Pain Management
Ineffective pain management is a health care issue that directly affects patients’ quality of life, and in addition to the emotional and physical tolls it exacts on patients and their families, it’s estimated that poor pain management costs the U.S. billions of dollars in lost wages and unnecessary spending each year. Nurses with more education are better qualified to address pain’s complexity, leading to better patient satisfaction inside and outside of health care settings.
6. Improved Discharge Processes
Unnecessary readmissions cost hospitals, taxpayers, insurers, and individuals tens of billions of dollars each year. One in five elderly patients find themselves readmitted to the hospital less than a month after discharge. A problem that costs Medicare — and the taxpayers shouldering the bill — $17 billion annually. Because of this excessive cost, policymakers are trying to find more effective and cost-beneficial ways to transition patients out of health care settings back into their homes in a way that not only streamlines and improves the discharge process, but also lowers the rate of readmission. Researchers have found that increased nurse education, less hours of overtime worked, and adequate nurse staffing levels lead to a greater patient readiness for discharge, which lowers the chance and rate of readmission as well as follow-up emergency room visits.
The complexities of health care aren’t going away any time soon, and as long as nurses provide the direct care patients need to recover from illness and injury, nurses are going to have to keep step with those complexities. From nursing homes and home health to rehab hospitals and ERs, better educated nurses lead to better patient outcomes from the time a sick person enters the building until long after he leaves.