The patient-to-nurse ratio has decreased throughout New Jersey in most specialty areas, according to a Rutgers study, and that's likely paving the way for improved patient outcomes.

Thanks to a state law that went into effect in 2008, which required that hospitals and nursing homes publicly report the number of patients per nurse, that number has decreased in 10 of 13 specialty areas examined by the study.

"There's a lot of evidence saying that if you don't have enough nurses, patient care will suffer," said Pamela de Cordova, lead researcher and an assistant professor at Rutgers School of Nursing.

A decrease in the patient-to-nurse ratio was not registered in the areas of adult open psychiatric, closed child psychiatric and adult ICU. Another three specialty areas could not be examined due to an insufficient amount of data.

The study looked at 30 quarterly reports from 2008 through 2015.

New Jersey is one of five states to require nurse staffing numbers of both hospitals and nursing homes. New Jersey's law says that those who fail to comply would be "subject to a penalty" determined by the state's health commissioner. Other than being reminded by a Department of Health member, the report said, there have not been any penalties placed on hospitals for failure to report.

The reported information is available online, but de Cordova claims many patients are unaware, or are unable to interpret the staffing numbers.

"Publicly available, scientifically validated information can help patients become more informed and empowered when making decisions about their health care and where to obtain it," de Cordova said.

She added that nurses being cognizant of this law can empower them to choose to work in hospitals wiht the best staffing.

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