Two Sides of the Story: Contingent Staff’s Performance

There are usually two sides to every story. When it comes to contingent staffing in healthcare, that certainly is true. Some recent studies suggest that temporary or contract healthcare workers offer a lower quality of patient care while other studies say just the opposite.

A 2011 Johns Hopkins study suggests that temporary employees in unfamiliar environments were twice as likely as staff employees to be involved in serious medication errors that harmed patients. However, the Hopkins team itself cautioned that while it may be easy to place blame on the temps, the problem is likely more complex and could be the result of issues within the facility’s system.

Alternatively, extensive studies commissioned by the American Staffing Association concluded that higher use of temporary nurses does not lead to safety and quality problems that negatively impact patient care. The study dubbed contract staff as “well-prepared and competent,” supporting the idea that supplemental staff can support patient care quality when strategically employed.

The list of research studies examining the effectiveness of temporary employees is long and daunting. Despite these varying opinions, our industry will continue to hold an important responsibility to make certain contingent staff receives the training, site acclimation and certifications needed to maintain high quality patient care.

Here are just a few ways that agencies and their facility partners can accomplish just that.

  1. Allocate ample time and resources to develop a comprehensive onboarding program. Work collaboratively with internal and external team members to implement a training system designed to help talent understand the dynamics of their new workplace, as well as the policies, procedures, and patient care practices that will influence their daily work life.
  2. Maintain thorough compliance and credentialing processes.In addition to ensuring contract workers have proper certifications and license requirements, thoroughly verify that employees have the required skill sets and expertise to avoid decreased productivity and increased chances for patient care errors.
  3. Provide support for continuing education opportunities.Education is a key component to the success of all employees, whether they are permanent or temporary. Create an environment where education is embedded in the culture of your organization and provide valuable support services that reward talent for advancing their healthcare expertise.
  4. Foster an open line of communication. Promote constructive communication practices among contingent staff and facility partners to ensure all parties involved feel comfortable addressing their needs. Whether it’s a patient care or operational concern, clear communication is the first step in resolving many of the daily issues contingent employees will face.

Managing contingent labor will continue to be a complex challenge, but keeping the basic concepts of employee relations top-of-mind will both contribute to positive patient outcomes and effectively support the workforce demands of any healthcare organization.

Janet Elkin
Janet Elkin is president and CEO of Supplemental Health Care. She can be reached at jelkin (at) supplementalhealthcare (dot) com.

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