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Nurses Can't Afford to Ignore Healthcare Costs

By Jennifer Thew RN  
   June 02, 2015

Concern for the hospital's bottom line has traditionally been outside the realm of RNs, but understanding healthcare costs gives them an advantage in improving patient care and insight into leadership challenges.

From the time we enter school, nurses are taught to be advocates who champion our patients' needs regardless of their diagnosis, social standing, or access to resources.

"When I was a student nurse the mantra was, 'We give care regardless of cost,'" says Susan J. Penner, DrPh, RN, MN, MPA, CNL, an adjunct faculty member who teaches courses in healthcare financial management at the University of San Francisco School of Nursing and Health Professions.

Times have changed in the years since Penner and I went to nursing school. Today, often to the chagrin of those providing bedside care, there is a much greater emphasis on healthcare costs and financial outcomes than there were just a few decades ago. I've heard many nurses imply that "bean counters," administrators, and for-profit companies value financial outcomes more than doing what's right for patients and that this mindset is detrimental to patient care.

But after talking with Penner, it became clear to me that nurses don't have to let financial goals determine how they provide care to their patients. In fact, hospital finances usually benefit when nurse-driven improvements to care delivery are made.


Susan J. Penner

Quality Nursing Care is Cost-effective Care

"I think it's very important that nurses are able to link the high-quality work they do with the costs and savings that are involved," Penner says. "With all the concerns about healthcare costs right now and about performance, nurses are in a really key role to help lower healthcare costs."

She gives as an example, the push by CMS to reduce preventable readmissions. "The people in the hospital who are among the most crucial in doing that are the nurses," she says.

Nursing care is also instrumental in preventing hospital-acquired conditions, such as CAUTIs and DVTs after certain orthopedic procedures. HACs are about to start negatively affecting hospital reimbursements.

Additionally, nurses can help contain costs by reducing the waste of resources. This means not filling your pockets or the patient's room with IVs or wound care supplies that the patient may never end up using.

Jennifer Thew, RN, is the senior nursing editor at HealthLeaders.

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