Medication Errors More Likely By Emergency Room Temps: Study

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By: Staff Writers | Published: September 1st, 2011

According to the findings of a new study, temporary emergency room nurses have double the odds of making a medication error that harms patients when compared to permanent emergency room staff members. 

Researchers from Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine indicate that unfamiliarity with their surroundings may increase the risk that temporary nursing staff give a patient the wrong drug and cause an injury. The university announced the findings in a press release on August 25.

Researchers took data from a national medication error database and looked at almost 24,000 medication errors in 592 hospitals between 2000 and 2005. They found that temporary emergency room workers were twice as likely as permanent workers to make an error that resulted in a medication injury for a patient.

Not being familiar with local staff, hospital policies and procedures, and a lack of teamwork and communication, could all be contributing factors to the high rate of medication mistakes made by temporary emergency room staff, researchers said. Temps are also less likely to inform someone when they realize a mistake may have been made, the scientists found.

However, the researchers noted that the temporary nurses lack of familiarity with the emergency room and medical facility in general were not the only possible cause for the errors. The researchers suggested that some hospitals that rely heavily on temporary employees may have other quality concerns as well.

“A place that uses a lot of temporary staff may have more quality care issues in general,” said study leader Dr. Julius Cuong Pham, assistant professor of anesthesiology, critical care medicine and emergency medicine at Johns Hopkins. “It may not be the temporary staff that causes those errors but a function of the whole system.”

The medical community considers medication mistakes to be a preventable problem that can almost always be avoided with simple steps, such as double-checking all medications and ensuring that prescriptions and drug labels are clearly printed. Many emergency room mistakes can also be avoided by the use of a simple checklist or computerized prescriptions.

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