Patient-nurse ratio an important safety issue at Iowa hospital

As part of their recent contract negotiations, the union representing nurses at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics is focusing on reducing the nurse-to-patient ratio, according to The Gazette. The focus could help reduce medical errors, particularly in the emergency room, by providing patients with better care and allowing nurses to more carefully monitor their symptoms. Emergency rooms that are dealing with an unmanageably high number of patients are likelier to make mistakes when diagnosing and treating patients.

Reduced ratios

The union wants the nurse-to-patient ratio reduced to one-to-two in the critical and intensive care units, with a similar ratio for labor and delivery nurses. Surgical unit nurses, the union suggests, should not have to deal with any more than four patients at a time. If nurses have to work in excess of these ratios, then the union proposes giving them a "productivity pay" to account for the increased workload.

In addition to staffing levels, the union also wants greater clarification from the hospital regarding its Ebola-preparedness strategy. The hospital's preparation for dealing with potential Ebola patients has been described as "skimpy," especially in the wake of the recent Ebola scare in Dallas.

Doctor-nurse communication key

The focus on staffing levels could be particularly important in reducing errors in the emergency room. A previous report by the Wall Street Journal noted that emergency room errors account for a disproportionate number of medical malpractice claims. Furthermore, one of the prime causes of those errors was a lack of communication between nurses and doctors.

Staffing levels are important for doctor-nurse communication because a nurse who is overburdened by too many patients is less likely to relay important information about a patient to a doctor. For example, the article suggests that a doctor and nurse should see a patient together when that patient is first admitted to the emergency room. Such efforts could help reduce misdiagnoses and make sure individual patients get better care and treatment.

Hospital negligence

Although few people expect hospitals to be able to deliver miracles, patients understandably do expect doctors and nurses to provide the best possible care during a hospital stay. While most medical professionals do indeed endeavor to improve the health and wellbeing of their patients, occasionally hospitals, due to lack of staff or simple negligence, fail to deliver the care that is expected of them.

There is little room for error in a hospital setting, thus when medical staff fail to perform their jobs properly the consequences can be dire. Anybody who has been the victim of possible hospital negligence should contact a medical malpractice attorney as soon as possible. An experienced attorney will help patients understand what their legal rights are following any alleged malpractice and what legal avenues can be pursued.