Statistics are vital to nursing. A statistic is basically a way of viewing and understanding data. More specifically, data describes how one event or situation relates to another event or situation. It is also important in knowing what methods are most effective when administering medications or following protocols. Many times when a veteran nurse knows something specific through experience, it is also a form of informal statistics.
Sometimes a nurse may make observations about a patient that may or may not require concern. Statistics allow the nurse to make a judgement on whether or not follow up or further immediate medical attention is required. For example, a triage nurse needs to know what the likelihood of waiting a certain time in an emergency room exacerbating a condition will be in order to make informed decisions about prioritizing treatment. A nurse who has been in practice for many years may know what the priority should be without knowing the formal statistics and percentages involved.
It is also important in clinical nursing to determine if a commonly used method should be changed or if protocols should be revised. For this example, all of the numbers are random and only used to show the main idea. If the policy in a hospital is to change out an IV line every twenty-four hours, but there is a study that shows that changing the IV line every twenty hours reduced the risk of thrombophlebitis by 20%, it would be a statistical reason to change procedures.
Statistics is an integral part of the nursing profession. It has a direct affect on patient care in a variety of settings as well as the potential to change policies and procedures on a wider scale.
Statistics are used in nursing for many reasons. One is to analyze a trend in the vital statistics of a particular patient. For example, if a patient's blood pressure deviates too far from the norm, that is a sign that a nurse should let the attending know. Another is in research in nursing processes and procedures. Someone might perform a statistical analysis of patient outcomes based upon how many patients a nurse cares for or based upon how many hours a nurse works. If nurses are doing wound care, there has probably been research using statistics on patient outcomes for different kinds of procedures for wound care. Your need to wash thoroughly when you leave one patient and go to the next is based upon research that used statistics showing that this procedure significantly reduces infections. There are statistics that tell us about trends in nursing, that there is supposed to be a shortage of nurses in coming years, and, I believe, that there are shortages of nurses right now in some rural areas of the country. Statistics in nursing are very important! Much of what a nurse does every day is based upon statistics.
Nurses use statistics in day to day functioning and need to have a working understanding of it, if not detailed knowledge. Some common examples of day to day applications of statistics in nursing are the number of occupied beds in each ward daily, the number of patients with special nutritional needs (they need to discuss nutritional requirements with the dietician), measurement of improvement indicators (to determine the progress made), etc.
Florence Nightingale is the first known nurse statistician. She used statistical techniques to prove the effectiveness of sanitary conditions (simple things like sunshine, fresh air, clean dressing, etc.) in preventing military deaths.
Statistical results are very useful to show a trend, rather than relying on emotional appeals. For example, instead of saying that nurses are over-worked, we can simply state the statistics and show that for every extra patient load on a nurse, chances of death increase by 7%. In simpler terms, more nurses mean fewer deaths. Statistics help in patient care and improving the nursing practice. For example, statistics can show the effectiveness of a new practice, say the effect of using a new type of gloves or anti-septic medicine, etc. Statistics help in quantifying a phenomena, which is much easier to think about and discuss than qualitative trends.