Assessing the Relationships Between Nurse Work Conditions and Patient Outcomes: Systematic Literature Review

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

Sung-Heui Bae, PhD, MPH, RN
School of Nursing, University at Buffalo The State University of New York, Buffalo, NY

Learning Objective 1: The learner will understand the concept of work conditions in the nursing field through review of empirical research.

Learning Objective 2: The learner will be able to evaluate how work conditions in the nursing field are associated with patient outcomes.

Purpose: Improving nurse practice conditions are essential for addressing nursing shortages. General reviews of the literature support the link between better work environments and patient outcomes. However, definitive evidence has been lacking. The study fulfills two objectives: a systematic evaluation of nurse work conditions and a synthesis of the literature dealing with the association between nurse work condition and patient outcomes.
Methods: The systematic review search strategy was guided by a preliminary literature review revealing that several constructs had an association with patient outcomes, which include nurse work conditions, care environment, work structure, work context, and organizational context. A search of six electronic bibliographic databases was conducted for primary research published in English, from January 2000 to October 2009.  Inclusion criteria was: a study population consisting of nurses working in hospitals; studies reporting a measure of analysis of the relationship between work conditions and patient outcomes, where in studies with a quantitative design patient outcome was operationalized as the dependent variable and work conditions as independent variables. The studies were assessed for quality of design, sample, measurement and statistical analysis.
Results: After removal of duplicates, authors reviewed 25,000 titles from the search of electronic bibliographic databases. A total of 210 titles met the inclusion criteria. Further analysis will explore relationships between work conditions and patient outcomes.
Conclusion: Nurse work conditions have been brought to increased attention due to the nursing shortage. Although there are general reviews of the literature supporting the theory that better nurse work conditions are associated with better patient outcomes, without a systematic assessment of the nursing work conditions, attempts to evaluate and improve work conditions cannot be made. This study makes substantive contributions to the literature that support researchers and managers to assess and modify nurse work conditions.