Promoting continuity of nurse assignment during discharge care has the potential to increase patient readiness for discharge—which has been associated with fewer readmissions and emergency department visits. The few studies that examined nurse continuity during acute care hospitalizations did not focus on discharge or postdischarge outcomes.
The aim of this research was to examine the association of continuity in nurse assignment to patients prior to hospital discharge with return to hospital (readmission and emergency department or observation visits), including exploration of the mediating pathway through patient readiness for discharge and moderating effects of unit environment and unit nurse characteristics.
In a sample of 18,203 adult, medical–surgical patients from 31 Magnet hospitals, a correlational path analysis design was used in a secondary analysis to evaluate the effect of nurse continuity on readmissions and emergency department or observation visits within 30 days after hospital discharge. The mediating pathway through discharge readiness measured by patient self-report and nurse assessments was also assessed. Moderating effects of unit environment and nursing characteristics were examined across quartiles of unit environment (nurse staffing hours per patient day) and unit nurse characteristics (education and experience). Analyses were adjusted for patient characteristics, unit fixed effects, and clustering at the unit level.
Continuous nurse assignment on the last 2 days of hospitalization was observed in 6,441 (35.4%) patient discharges and was associated with a 0.85 absolute percentage point reduction (7.8% relative reduction) in readmissions. There was no significant association with emergency department or observation visits. Sensitivity analysis revealed a stronger effect in patients with higher Elixhauser Comorbidity Indexes. Readiness for discharge was not a mediator of the effect of continuity on return to hospital. Unit characteristics were not associated with nurse continuity. No moderation effect was evident for unit environment and nurse characteristics.
Continuity of nurse assignment on the last 2 days of hospitalization can reduce readmissions. Staffing for continuity may benefit patients and healthcare systems, with greater benefits for high-comorbidity patients. Nurse continuity prior to hospital discharge should be a priority consideration in assigning acute care nurses to augment readmission reduction efforts.