FRIDAY, April 18, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- Patients may get the best care when treated in hospital units staffed by highly experienced nurses, a new study shows.
Researchers analyzed data from more than 900,000 patients admitted over four years to U.S. Veterans Administration hospitals and found that for each one-year increase in the average tenure of registered nurses in a hospital unit, patients spent 1.3 percent less time in the hospital.
A shorter hospital stay indicates that a patient received better care, and is also more cost-effective, according to the researchers from Columbia University in New York City.
They also found that patients' length of stay increased when a team of RNs (registered nurses) had to do without an experienced member or had a new member assigned to them.
The study appears in the current issue of American Economic Journal: Applied Economics.
"Reducing length of stay is the holy grail of hospital management because it means patients are getting higher quality, more cost-effective care," senior study author Patricia Stone, a professor of health policy at Columbia's School of Nursing, said in a university news 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," Stone said. "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 findings show that hospital chief executives should consider policies to retain the most experienced nurses and create a work environment that encourages nurses to remain in their current units, study co-author Ann Bartel, a professor of workforce transformation at Columbia Business School, said in the news release.
The U.S. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality offers a guide to health care quality.
SOURCE: Columbia University, news release, April 14, 2014