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Better Work Environment May Cut Hospital Readmission Rates

THURSDAY, Jan. 3 (HealthDay News) -- Hospitals with a good work environment for nurses have fewer patient readmissions than those with poor working conditions, according to a new study.

Researchers analyzed data from more than 200,000 nurses and 412 hospitals in California, New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

The investigators found that readmission rates to hospital within 30 days after discharge were 7 percent lower for Medicare patients over age 65 with heart failure, 6 percent lower for heart attack patients and 10 percent lower for patients with pneumonia who were treated in hospitals with good work environments.

The study by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing appears in the January issue of the journal Medical Care.

"Our results suggest that improving nurses' work environment and reducing nurses' workload are organization-wide reforms that could result in fewer readmissions for Medicare beneficiaries with common medical conditions," lead author Matthew McHugh, a health policy expert, said in a nursing school news release.

"This is consistent with the evidence showing significant associations between the nurse work environment, staffing, and other patient outcomes," he added.

The researchers noted that preventable hospital readmissions cost Medicare more than $15 billion a year, and Medicare is now penalizing hospitals with high rates of patient readmissions.

One way to improve nurses' working conditions is to reduce their workload by hiring more nurses, McHugh said. The increased costs of doing so may be offset through things such as increased productivity, fewer patient readmissions, and reduced expenses related to nurse turnover and retraining.

While the study found an association between nurses' working conditions and patient readmissions, it did not prove a cause-and-effect relationship.

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The U.S. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality advises patients to do their homework before they choose a hospital.

-- Robert Preidt

SOURCE: University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing, news release, December 2012

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