This is a typical media reaction to the August 25 story about research by Johns Hopkins Medicine on emergency room temporary staff.
The story begins, “Temporary staff members working in a hospital’s fast-paced emergency department are twice as likely as permanent employees to be involved in medication errors that harm patients.”
Similar coverage made my jaw drop. ERE.net followed the Johns Hopkins Newswise release to the letter: Temporary ER Staff Poses Increased Safety Risk to Patients.
The Illinois Medical Malpractice Blog bungled it even more badly: Temporary Emergency Room Staff Members Pose Increased Risk of Medical Errors.
For the record, the article was originally published online in November 2010 with the heading “Are Temporary Staff Associated with More Severe Emergency Department Medication Errors?” The research results appear in the July/August 2011 issue of the Journal for Healthcare Quality.
Here’s a better headline for this story: Training, Onboarding of Temporary Staff Is Especially Critical For ER Heads.
Or, just this: Managers, Don’t Blame The Temps.
The third paragraph of the original article says:
“The Hopkins team cautions that while it may be easy to blame the temps themselves for the errors, the problem is probably more diffuse and complex. ‘A place that uses a lot of temporary staff may have more quality of care issues in general ,’ says Julius Cuong Pham, M.D., Ph.D, an assistant professor of anesthesiology and critical care medicine and emergency medicine at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and the study’s leader. ‘It may not be the temporary staff that causes those errors but a function of the whole system.’”
So if a highly qualified temporary nurse, for example, makes a critical mistake because of the unfamiliar surroundings or lack of understanding about the ER’s policies and procedures, who should assume the responsibility?
Maintaining a functional, skilled temporary workforce is a viable strategy for many companies in many industries. If a company reaps the cost-saving, flexibility-enhancing benefits of that workforce, the company leadership – not the temp workers – must ensure that all employees are properly onboarded and trained according to company standards.
For the staffing industry, story leads like these are not doing us any favors. And we’ve got to be paying more attention to them.
By and large, we never hear about temporary workers underperforming in, really, any industry. Yet with headlines like the above, we unwittingly encourage the perception of skilled, professional, hard-working temporary staff as second-class workers - a cheaper, less-effective alternative to the real thing.