Temporary ER Nurses are Potentially Endangering Patients

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An article came out in HealthLeaders Media earlier this week that caught my eye. According to new research from Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, temporary ER nurses may unintentionally be a threat to the patients they care for. US News also followed this study and stated that the data from Johns Hopkins showed a link between increased medication errors and temporary ER nurses. According to US News, “Johns Hopkins researchers analyzed data on nearly 24,000 medication errors that occurred in emergency departments at 592 hospitals across the United States between 2000 and 2005.” Researchers from the study concluded that “unfamiliarity” with the hospital is the likely cause of these mistakes.

Ann Marie Papa, RN, president of the Emergency Nurses Association, was quoted in the article from HealthLeaders Media as saying, “Temporary help can be tremendous when you are struggling with nursing shortages, but the key is that these temporary nurses are properly trained and they have proper orientation, mentoring, and supervision.” She went on to note that hospitals should embrace temporary nurses as they do permanent ones and provide the proper education. I agree that increased and specific orientation periods for temporary ER nurses would surely decrease errors. This study made me wonder, however, for many organizations who rely on temporary nurses due to a nursing shortage and a limited budget, how will they be able to increase education for their temporary staff?

nurses are healthcare employees

I decided to review the HealthcareSource and ASHHRA HR Initiatives Survey results for some answers. The results indicate that employee education is the key to patient satisfaction and safety, which aligns with conclusions from the John Hopkins study on ER nurses. Out of the 234 healthcare HR leaders we surveyed, 74% indicated that “improving workforce education and development” is their top HR initiative to improve patient safety. During our Webinar on these results, panelist Stephanie Drake, Executive Director of ASHHRA, was not surprised. “Well trained, happy, high performing employees are going to provide better care and make fewer mistakes.”

 

With the influx of HCAHPS putting the pressure on healthcare organizations to improve patient satisfaction, this study from Johns Hopkins reveals a set back to the initiatives process that’s directly aligned with employee education. If education is the key to improving things, what’s holding HR back from implementing these changes? The answer might simply be time; 69% of our survey respondents indicated that a “lack of time” is the biggest factor holding them back from implementing their key HR initiatives.

How can HR departments within healthcare organizations free up the time they need to roll out important education initiatives that will drive patient safety and satisfaction? I believe the full answer is specific to each organization. However, in reviewing our survey results, one thing is clear: inefficient technology will not help. “I was intrigued by the findings on inefficient systems and technology,” said Jeff Payne, Webinar Panelist and Vice President of HR, Lakeland Regional Medical Center. In addition to lack of time, poor technology was ranked highly as a challenge hindering HR initiatives. Jeff concluded, “If you fix that issue, you can solve the others [such as a lack to time]. We are focused on optimizing the technologies that we have, using the systems we have to their fullest capability, getting good and robust data in there; data that will help you make better decisions.” I agree with Jeff – I think sufficient data will help you help you make better decisions, but it it will also help you make faster ones.

Learn more by downloading the 2011 HealthcareSource and ASHHRA Healthcare HR Initiatives Survey Results and Insight White Paper.

About The Editorial Staff

The Editorial Staff is a team of writers with a passion for helping healthcare organizations manage their biggest and most important investment: their employees.