The long-term impact of the nursing shortage will become increasingly more significant in several areas. The primary concern will be the impact it has on the ability of nurses to provide quality health care. With fewer staff, nurses are required to work longer hours and assume additional responsibilities. Overworked nurses, burdened with fatigue and job stress, are more prone to accidental errors and a reduction in timely medical attention. A survey of registered nurses indicated that 79 percent of hospital employed RNs believed that short staffing contributed to a reduction in the quality of patient care. A long-term and escalating nursing shortage could contribute to the 98,000 deaths per year due to medical errors as reported by the Institute of Medicine in 2000.
Aside from the important issue of the quality of patient care is the factor of rising health care costs. As the labor supply of qualified nurse's shrinks, the competition for nurses increases. A wage war may result from the shortage and will contribute to the rising costs as hospitals increase the wages and compensatory packages for their staff. Costs associated with temporary hiring practices have also increased due to the shortage. While an increase in wages may seem to benefit the nurses, increased demands may not be worth the cost. Nurses working extended shifts and longer hours may come under increased scrutiny from administrators and government regulators struggling to eliminate the human errors and the increased cost of malpractice insurance.