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Temporary health care workers responsible for medication errors

Increasingly, hospitals in Miami and across the country are relying on temporary doctors and nurses. However, a recent study of nearly 24,000 drug mix-ups found that temporary health workers in emergency departments were twice as likely to cause harmful medication errors when compared with permanent employees.

The majority of these medical malpractice incidents were administrative mistakes made by temporary nurses. Doctors and permanent nurses were responsible for medication errors as well. However, the fact that temporary health care workers were so much more likely to make life threatening drug errors concerned researchers.

Why are temporary workers more likely to make medication errors? The cause remains unclear. Temporary nursing staff must be licensed, trained and must meet all other regulatory requirements.

Problems in the emergency room itself can possibly explain the disturbing statistics. It is possible that patient overcrowding is an issue, or that the level of care in the ER may not be what it should be. Perhaps permanent nursing staff members in emergency rooms are more confident than temporary employees because of their experience in the high-pressure demands of the job.

No matter what the possible reasons are for the errors caused by temporary nursing staff, the research clearly suggests that hospitals using temporary workers may be placing patients at risk of injury.

Florida Hospitals should take heed of this important discovery and determine whether their patients may be at risk. All hospitals must put patient safety first and ensure that all temporary employees are fully trained and prepared for the job of caring for patients in their emergency departments.

Source: American Medical News, "Temporary health workers double risk of harmful drug mix-ups," Kevin B. O'Reilly, Sept. 12, 2011

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