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Temp ER Nurses a Safety Threat to Patients, Study Shows

John Commins, for HealthLeaders Media, August 30, 2011

Medication errors made by temporary workers were more likely to reach the patient, result in at least temporary harm and also be life-threatening, they found. The findings appear in the July/August issue of the Journal for Healthcare Quality.

Pham said temporary personnel are often not familiar with local staff, care management systems, protocols, or procedures. This may hamper communication and teamwork that causes them difficulty in retrieving important medical information and leave them unsure of which procedures to follow.

Temporary help may be less likely to speak up if they see problems and also lag behind the latest knowledge because, unlike permanent employees, temps typically manage their own continuing education.

Papa agreed with that assessment, and said it underscores the need for hospitals to embrace their temporary staff for the time they're there, and give them the same consideration and training they would offer permanent staff.

"It is up to the organization to ensure that the new nurses, the temporary nurses, the new graduates, are properly trained about procedures, protocols, and the culture of the hospital and the department in which they are working," Papa says.

It starts with frontline charge nurses making assessments of the people they supervise to ensure their competency. "Watch them put the IV line in. Watch them interview a patient. Someone has to verify their competency," Papa says.

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