Johns Hopkins study confirms temporary ER staff pose higher medication risk for patients
On August 30, 2011, it was reported that Johns Hopkins' researchers had analyzed 24,000 mediation errors that occurred in 592 U.S. hospitals between 2000 and 2005. The medical researchers concluded that care involving temporary emergency room staff doubled the risk of medication errors, when compared with mishaps involving permanent ER staff. Researchers noted that while temporary staff may be relatively unfamiliar with a hospital's procedures, contributing to error, it was also likely that hospitals employing temporary staff may have more quality of care issues, in general. It is also very possible that professionals available to provide temporary staffing are not as competent as professionals who have been employed on a permanent basis. Certainly they would be less "vested" in the professional performance of their temporary employer. It seems logical, also, that temporary professionals are more likely to be serving in smaller hospitals where a particular medication or condition would be encountered less frequently. It is a well known phenomenon that medical professionals improve with practice: don't employ a surgeon to cut on you if he or she doesn't have a crew that performs the subject surgery, or a closely-related procedure, 200 times per year.
Regardless of the genesis of the errors, it is worth noting that Hopkins' researchers found more than 4,000 medication errors, on average, for each of the 592 hospitals over 6 years, or an average of about two per day, per hospital. In spite of this error rate, some Michigan legislators would like to confer immunity on any health care professional taking care of an E.R. patient: these patients would have no recourse for errors. This is, obviously, an over-reach by insurance companies and health care corporations, given the frequency of the mistakes, the well-compensated and well-educated nature of these professions, and the potential gravity of the errors. Health care providers enjoy enough protections through the malpractice "reforms" adopted in Michigan in the 1980s, 1990s and early in this century. The claims history doesn't justify granting these careproviders complete immunity for their own mistakes. The article is published in the Journal for Healthcare Quality, July/August 2011 issue.
Our experience mimics the Johns Hopkins findings, with temporary ER staff commonly involved in Emeregency Room mishaps. In our most recent case, a temporary ER physician staffing a rural hospital failed to take action in response to an overdose ofa new diabetic medication ordered by the family doctor. The 61 year-old marginal diabetic was sent home after less than four hours; at home, she suffered a seizure, brain damage and death. Standard ER and Internal Medicine textbooks recommend hospitalization of these patients for at least 24 hours.