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Temporary Emergency Room Staff Members Pose Increased Risk of Medical Errors

News Wise reported today on new research from Johns Hopkins which examines light on one common hospital practice that increases safety risks to patients. The new study examined the quality of services provided by temporary staff members in hospital emergency rooms. Specifically, researchers wanted to better understand if medical errors were more likely to be committed by these types of workers in this medical setting. The results indicate that hospitals administrators committed to eliminating medical malpractice should take a close look at this practice of using these services.

The main take away from the research revealed that temporary staff members were twice as likely to commit medication errors when compared to permanent employees. The research was conducted using an Internet based medication error reporting system from 2000 to 2005. Nearly 24,000 medication errors were part of the study which involved more than 592 hospitals. The findings, which appear in the latest issue of the Journal for Healthcare Quality, found that not only did temporary workers make more errors, but those errors were more likely to reach the patient, result in temporary harm, and be life-threatening.

Temporary workers-particularly nurses-are becoming an increasingly common site in the health care workforce. Hospitals use these non-permanent employees to fill-in for others on both a short and long-term basis. Many medical administrators like these workers because they are considered cheaper alternatives overall. While they often make slightly more money per hour they do not receive benefits.

Analysts seeking to understand the data suggest that temporary workers unfamiliarity with local staff members, care management systems, and hospital procedures may be at least a partial cause in the problem. The new circumstances may affect communication between employees creating an environment that breeds increased errors. In addition, temporary employees may be less likely to speak up if they suspect a problem. These workers manage their own continuing education (unlike permanent employees) and so part of the problem could also be that have less familiarity with new medication knowledge.

The problem is particularly prevalent in the emergency room context, because of the increased severity of many injuries, the medical complexities involved, and the decreased time available to make often life-saving decisions. The circumstances also mean that many medications are administered without the standard pharmacy check that occurs in other contexts. It remains unclear if the increased risk of errors with temporary workers exists in contexts outside of the emergency room. Further research is needed to pinpoint exactly how large of a problem these issues might be in other healthcare contexts.

Illinois medication errors remain a prevalent problem that causes injuries and death throughout our area. Our Chicago medical malpractice attorneys at Levin & Perconti have worked with many families whose lives have been turned upside down by these mistakes. We urge hospital human resource departments and others involved in these staffing issues to take a good look at this latest study. Any changes that could be made to the use and or training of temporary workers that eliminates these medication errors would go a long way to boosting patient safety in our area.

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