Objective: Although research has been conducted on how nurse staffing levels affect outcomes, there has been little investigation into how the health-related productivity of nurses is related to quality of care. Two major causes of worker presenteeism (reduced on-the-job productivity as a result of health problems) are musculoskeletal pain and mental health issues, particularly depression. This study sought to investigate the extent to which musculoskeletal pain or depression (or both) in RNs affects their work productivity and self-reported quality of care and considered the associated costs.
Methods: Using a cross-sectional survey design, a random sample of 2,500 hospital-employed RNs licensed in North Carolina were surveyed using a survey instrument sent by postal mail. Specific measures included questions on individual and workplace characteristics, self-reported quality of care, and patient safety; a numeric pain rating scale, a depression tool (the Patient Health Questionnaire), and a presenteeism tool (the Work Productivity and Activity Impairment Questionnaire: General Health) were also incorporated. A total of 1,171 completed surveys were returned and used for analysis.
Results: Among respondents, the prevalence of musculoskeletal pain was 71%; that of depression was 18%. The majority of respondents (62%) reported a presenteeism score of at least 1 on a 0-to-10 scale, indicating that health problems had affected work productivity at least “a little.” Pain and depression were significantly associated with presenteeism. Presenteeism was significantly associated with a higher number of patient falls, a higher number of medication errors, and lower quality-of-care scores. Baseline cost estimates indicate that the increased falls and medication errors caused by presenteeism are expected to cost $1,346 per North Carolina RN and just under $2 billion for the United States annually. Upper-boundary estimates exceed $9,000 per North Carolina RN and $13 billion for the nation annually.
Conclusion: More attention must be paid to the health of the nursing workforce to positively influence the quality of patient care and patient safety and to control costs.