Temporary ER Staff Linked to More Medication Errors

TUESDAY Aug. 30, 2011 -- The use of temporary emergency department doctors and nurses poses an increased safety risk to patients, according to a new study.

Johns Hopkins researchers analyzed data on nearly 24,000 medication errors that occurred in emergency departments at 592 hospitals across the United States between 2000 and 2005, and found that temporary staff were twice as likely as permanent staff to be involved in medication errors that harmed patients.

The increased risk of medication errors associated with temporary staff may be due to their unfamiliarity with a hospital's practices and systems, the researchers suggested.

"You may know the medicine, but you still may get tripped up by the policies and procedures of an unfamiliar system. This can lead to more serious errors," study leader Dr. Julius Cuong Pham, an assistant professor of anesthesiology and critical care medicine and emergency medicine at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, said in a Hopkins news release.

It's easy to blame temporary staff themselves for the errors, but the problem is more widespread and complex, the study authors noted.

"A place that uses a lot of temporary staff may have more quality of care issues in general. It may not be the temporary staff that causes those errors but a function of the whole system," Pham said.

The study was published in the July/August issue of the Journal for Healthcare Quality.

The findings are particularly important in regard to temporary nurses, who are a substantial and growing part of the health care workforce due to a nursing shortage in the United States, the team pointed out in the news release. Temporary nurses are seen as a cheaper alternative to permanent nurses and are widely used to fill gaps in both short- and long-term work schedules.

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers an overview of medicine safety.

Posted: August 2011


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