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Baltimore researchers link temporary ER staff to medication errors

When you go to the hospital in Maryland, you have the right to expect that you will receive quality healthcare and that you will not be injured because of a medical mistake. Medical mistakes come in a variety of forms, but one area of increasing concern involves medication errors.

Medication errors happen when a doctor prescribes the wrong type or wrong dose of medication. They can also happen when staff members confuse one type of medication for another. Many patients are injured, often seriously, because of these types of errors. Recently, researchers at Baltimore's Johns Hopkins University conducted a study and found a strong connection between temporary staff and medication errors.

The researchers analyzed records from about 600 hospitals across the country for a five-year period from 2000 to 2005. They then analyzed data regarding nearly 24,000 medication errors that happened in emergency rooms in those hospitals. They found that temporary physicians and staff were about twice as likely to make a medication error that harmed a patient than permanent staff members were.

On first glance, many people would be quick to blame the temporary workers. However, the Johns Hopkins researchers found that, in many instances, the temporary staff members understood medicine, but were simply unfamiliar with the procedures and charting systems in place at their hospitals. Because of this, the problems with medical errors are often due to confusing or inefficient systems that are in place at hospitals.

In addition, the problems with temporary staff experience with medication errors may rise in the future. More and more hospitals are increasingly relying upon temporary nurses, who are seen as a cheaper alternative than permanent staff.

Source: U.S. News, "Temporary ER Staff Linked to More Medication Errors," Aug. 30, 2011

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