Study Links Temporary ER Staff to Medication Errors

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by | Sep 9, 2011 | Pharmacy Errors

A study released by Johns Hopkins has identified a link between an increased rate of medication errors in hospitals and the use of temporary staff, including temporary doctors and nurses, in hospital emergency rooms. The study, which covers 592 hospitals over the period from 2000 to 2005, reviewed nearly 24,000 medication errors and found that temporary staff were twice as likely as permanent staff to be involved in medication errors.

The researchers give several possible reasons for this correlation, including the lack of familiarity of temporary staff with a hospitals policies and procedures. Johns Hopkins professor Dr. Julius Cuong Pham noted, however, that the problem may be more endemic than merely staff errors, stating that “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.”

The emergency room is an especially troubling place to have workers unfamiliar with the systems and procedures of the hospital, since it handles the most critical medical needs and often operates at a much faster pace than other areas in a hospital. Medication errors are a major cause of injury and even death in hospitals across the United States. A fast-paced, high-pressure environment combined with temporary staff and the possible associated quality of care issues is serious cause for concern.

The use of temporary emergency room staff has been increasing for at least a decade. An overall shortage of nurses in hospitals has led to an increased number of nurses employed by temporary employment agencies, who work brief assignments at multiple hospitals. A 2008 handbook from the National Institutes of Health found a steady increase in the use of temporary nursing staff from 1996 to 2004, and it posited the same theories regarding increased risk to patients noted by the Johns Hopkins study. A 2010 paper published in the medical journal Health Care Management Review found an increased incidence of both patient injuries and back injuries among nurses in hospitals using temporary staff.

Temporary hospital staff work under the same professional licensing and regulation as full-time staff, and they have all the same professional and ethical obligations to patients. In the Kansas City area, nurses are governed by the Missouri Board of Nursing or the Kansas Sate Board of Nursing. Hospitals have an obligation to ensure competent and diligent care for their patients, and to ensure that their staff operate fully within the requirements of their profession. The American Nurses Association has supported legislation to mandate nurse staffing plans in hospitals in order to maintain a sufficient number of licensed and registered nurses to serve the hospital’s needs. Fifteen states and the District of Columbia have enacted legislation or regulations addressing nurse staffing levels, but Missouri and Kansas are not among them.

If you or a loved one has suffered injury or died as a result of a hospital medication error, you can report the matter and you may also be entitled to compensation for your loss. The Food and Drug Administration tracks medication errors and investigates pharmaceutical companies. Your state’s Board of Nursing (Kansas or Missouri) investigates claims of ethical breaches by nurses. Doug Horn, a Kansas City medication error attorney, can help you recover compensation for your injuries or loss. Contact Horn Law for an assessment of your case.