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It can be uncomfortable to think about hospitals and medical professionals as part of an “industry,” but that is exactly what they are. The healthcare industry, like all industries, is constantly looking for ways to do things in more profitable ways.
As part of that search, many hospital emergency rooms have turned to temporary staff. Short-term nurses and doctors provide medical services less expensively than full time staff. Additionally, many hospitals are short-staffed to begin with, so they rely on temporary professionals to fill in the gaps.
Unfortunately, researchers at Johns Hopkins have recently determined these temporary medical staff members are connected with more medication errors than full-time staff.
The Johns Hopkins study was published in the July/August issue of the Journal for Healthcare Quality this summer. The study looked at 592 hospitals throughout the country. Between the years 2000 and 2005, those hospitals were the source of nearly 24,000 medication errors. According to the researchers, temporary staff members were twice as likely to be involved in medication errors as permanent staff.
This research raises important concerns for Pittsburgh-area patients. Why were temporary nurses and doctors involved in so many more medication errors that put patients in serious danger? The researchers offered at least one suggestion that may surprise you.
It is not necessarily the case that temporary medical staff members are less experienced or knowledgeable professionals. Instead, even the best nurses and doctors can “get ripped up by the policies and procedures of an unfamiliar system.” Johns Hopkins professor Dr. Julius Cuong Pham believes that this “can lead to more serious errors.”
This study only drew a connection between medication errors and temporary emergency room staff. More research will be needed to determine the root cause of those errors.
Source: HealthDay via US News and World Report, “Temporary ER Staff Linked to More Medication Errors,” Aug. 30, 2011