Objective: Several systematic reviews have suggested that greater nurse staffing as well as a greater proportion of registered nurses in the health workforce is associated with better patient outcomes. Others have found that nurses can substitute for doctors safely and effectively in a variety of settings. However, these reviews do not generally consider the effect of nurse staff on both patient outcomes and costs of care, and therefore say little about the cost-effectiveness of nurse-provided care. Therefore, we conducted a scoping literature review of economic evaluation studies which consider the link between nurse staffing, skill mix within the nursing team and between nurses and other medical staff to determine the nature of the available economic evidence.
Design: Scoping literature review.
Data sources: English-language manuscripts, published between 1989 and 2009, focussing on the relationship between costs and effects of care and the level of registered nurse staffing or nurse-physician substitution/nursing skill mix in the clinical team, using cost-effectiveness, cost-utility, or cost-benefit analysis. Articles selected for the review were identified through Medline, CINAHL, Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, Database of Abstracts of Reviews of Effects and Google Scholar database searches.
Review methods: After selecting 17 articles representing 16 unique studies for review, we summarized their main findings, and assessed their methodological quality using criteria derived from recommendations from the guidelines proposed by the Panel on Cost-Effectiveness in Health Care.
Results: In general, it was found that nurses can provide cost effective care, compared to other health professionals. On the other hand, more intensive nurse staffing was associated with both better outcomes and more expensive care, and therefore cost effectiveness was not easy to assess.
Conclusions: Although considerable progress in economic evaluation studies has been reached in recent years, a number of methodological issues remain. In the future, nurse researchers should be more actively engaged in the design and implementation of economic evaluation studies of the services they provide.
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