Unfortunately, short staffing is an ever more concept in many medical facilities. It is the reason for much discontent and many strikes amongst medical staff because departments have fewer than required people available. Sometimes this is due to budget cuts forcing the facility to reduce staff and therefore having too little people available. Sometimes it is more a temporary issue during seasonal fluctuations like for example the holiday period. Whatever the reason, it is not just the medical staff that is suffering from the effect of short staffing, it also affects the quality of service in medical facilities.
First of all, in an understaffed medical facility, the medical staff that is working there needs to work more than they should be. Working more hours than they should, is directly related to less concentration and higher fatigue. Hence, more medical staff means fresher and more alert medical staff which directly affects the quality of service. This means that sufficient staffing leads to less mistakes, fewer readmissions, more cost efficiency and a better discharge planning simply because the medical staff available is more concentrated, alert and awake.
Second, when a medical facility is short staffed, that means that there is simply no time for some work to be done. Hence, much of the necessary patient care is just not being done due to lack of time and personnel. Complaints of patients for example not being washed every day or not being attended quick enough when they need to go to the bathroom are unfortunately not uncommon at all. Apart from hygiene, other examples of patient care that suffers under short staffing are patient teaching, feedings, emotional support, documentation updates, discharge planning and surveillance. And it´s not because the medical staff doesn´t want to do it, they just don´t get to it and often feel very bad about not being able to do so. This obviously has a significant impact on the quality of patient care.
Third, especially in the higher risk areas of the hospital, like the ICU, understaffing can have a direct impact on mortality rates. Less staff available means less attention per patient and less basic care. Especially in the ICU, this has a direct impact on the chances for a patient to recover and therefore short staffing is considered to impact both in-hospital mortality and 30-day mortality (e.g. people being discharged and pass away within a month). Also, think about when something critical happens when a patient is in the hospital, say a heart attack, with less staff per patient obviously, the rates of recovery are decreasing because patients can´t be attended quick enough.
Finally, being understaffed can also mean that urgent tasks have to be executed by someone that might not be fully qualified for it. E.g. when a patient needs something urgently and there is no doctor available soon enough, it could happen that a nurse needs to step in to act quickly and do procedures that he or she might not actually be responsible for or authorized to do. This also impacts the quality of service directly. Being short staffed also means there is less time for training or courses (some of which might even be mandatory) also impacting the quality of care.
In summary, it can be said that being short staffed has a very negative direct impact on the quality of service in medical facilities which often can have disastrous results. Working circumstances, the physical and mental well-being of the staff, lack of time, staff-to-patient rate, no time for schooling and having to execute tasks staff might not be required to do all directly impact the quality of service for patients.
What other impacts of short staffing do you see for the quality of service? Leave your cmments below.