According to a study recently published in the Journal for Healthcare Quality, temporary doctors and nurses who work in hospital emergency departments are two times more likely to make medication errors than regular emergency room personnel.
In the study, researchers from Johns Hopkins University reviewed 24,000 medication errors from 592 hospitals made during 2000 to 2005. Of those medical mistakes, temporary staff members were more likely to be the cause of medication errors that harmed the facilities' patients.
Dr. Julius Cuong Pham, lead researcher, pointed out that temps may "know the medicine, but may still get tripped up by the policies and procedures of an unfamiliar system."
In addition to the unfamiliarity with a hospital's procedures and policies, temporary staff may not feel comfortable communicating their concerns with the facility's regular staff members. Also, because temps are responsible for their own continuing education, they may not be privy to the same level of training that permanent hospital staff receives.
A Growing Concern
The use of temporary hospital staff, particularly nurses, is growing all across the country. Temporary nurses are often hired by health care facilities in order to save money since many hospitals do not offer these workers benefits. However, the short-term financial benefits may be overshadowed by the potential liability that the temps cause.
Dr. Pham and his colleagues recommend that "institutions carefully consider the local risks and benefits of temporary staff use in the emergency department."