Patient care has always represented a delicate balancing act of diagnosis, procedures, and ongoing care for the duration of a patient’s stay. Complicating this delicate balance is the trend toward reimbursement based on patient outcomes. Acuity-based staffing offers several benefits that help maintain that balance while keeping the financial picture in mind.
Patients don’t all require similar levels of care. For example, a patient fresh out of major surgery and on shaky ground needs a substantial level of nursing care. A patient on his or her last day, showing excellent improvement probably needs a minimal level of care, baring some major status change. Acuity-based staffing focuses extra resources to the patients requiring the most care at any given time.
Acuity-based staffing provides a more flexible way of assigning talent to patients. The nurses with the most experience or the most experience with specific kinds of cases get directed primarily to more demanding cases. Less experienced nurses get directed primarily toward less demanding cases. It also provides flexibility in pairing less experienced nursing staff with more experienced nursing staff for experiential learning.
A systemic acuity-based approach also divorces care from a strict nurse-to-patient ratio. While a nurse-to-patient ratio looks great on paper, it doesn’t allow much wiggle room for rapidly changing patient needs. If three or four patients in a unit take an abrupt downturn, it can leave a unit’s nursing staff overtaxed and compromise patient care. In an acuity-based system, additional nurses can be brought in to reduce the strain and maintain quality care.
An acuity-based system aims to produce staffing patterns based on patient data. If the data suggests certain patients need more care, the staffing pattern will include extra nurses. By the same token, if the data suggests light care needs, then staffing can be kept as is or reduced slightly. While no system is foolproof, it is a more responsive way of addressing care needs.
While research is always evolving on patient care outcomes, acuity-based staffing does appear to generate better overall patient outcomes. This approach also proves generally more cost-effective, as it helps reduce burnout. The reduction in burnout helps prevent the staff shortages that plague hospitals, drive overtime pay, and reduce the quality of care.
Acuity-based staffing isn’t merely a cost-saving measure. It is addressing staffing as a direct relationship to patients’ need for care. By appropriately staffing for the necessary level of care, patient outcomes improve, nurse talent is better distributed, and costs are more effectively managed.
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