The Effects of Nurse Presenteeism on Quality of Care and Patient Safety

A team at the University of North Carolina, Greensboro, led by Susan Letvak and Christopher Ruhm, evaluated the influence of presenteeism (decreased productivity due to health problems) on hospital registered nurses' (RNs) quality of patient care. This study focused on presenteeism among RNs suffering musculoskeletal pain and/or depression. In addition, they assessed the economic costs to the health care system associated with presenteeism. Using a mixed methods approach, including a survey and focus groups of RNs in North Carolina, researchers documented a depression prevalence of 18% in hospital nurses. Seventy-one percent of nurses interviewed reported working with some pain and the majority of nurses interviewed reported that a health problem had negatively affected their productivity on the job in the previous two weeks. The team found that pain and depression were significantly associated with presenteeism and that presenteeism was significantly associated with patient falls, medication errors and the perceived quality of care. Finally, the team found that the productivity loss due to pain and/or depression was $14,339 per nurse and $876.9 million for the state of North Carolina. If these numbers were extrapolated to the nation, the productivity loss would be $22.7 billion.

The project findings are presented in a research brief on the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation's website.

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Health care workforce data (R8)
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