High nurse workloads may affect postsurgical outcomes of older minorities

Published on October 17, 2012 at 4:24 AM · No Comments

Older black patients are three times more likely than older white patients to suffer poorer outcomes after surgery, including death, when cared for by nurses with higher workloads, reports research from the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing. The large-scale study showed higher nurse workloads negatively affected older surgical patients generally and that the rate was more significant in older black individuals. When the patient-to-nurse ratio increased above 5:1, the odds of patient death increased by 3 percent per additional patient among whites and by 10 percent per additional patient among blacks.

Lead author J. Margo Brooks Carthon, PhD, RN, and Penn Nursing colleagues studied more than 548,000 patients ages 65 and older undergoing general, orthopedic, or vascular surgery in 599 hospitals in California, Florida, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania. These hospitals are among the largest in the country and account for more than one-fifth of the nation's hospitalizations.

"Hospitalized surgical patients sometimes experience periods of instability in vital functions, and the quality of nursing care they receive has a significant effect on their recovery and well-being," said Dr. Carthon. "This is particularly relevant to older black patients because of associated complex medical conditions that may compromise their health status postoperatively."

In the study, 94 percent of patients were white and 6 percent were black. Data were comprised from nearly 30,000 hospital staff nurses working directly in patient care. The study assessed mortality and failure to rescue, which was defined as death after the development of a complication in the hospital after surgery.

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