Prescribing is not a responsibility to be taken lightly. Prescribing a drug to any person – even as a “one-time favor” for a coworker, relative, friend, or neighbor – establishes a patient-practitioner relationship. Prescribe the right drug, for the right patient, in the right dose, by the right route, at the right times, for the right duration, and for the right indications.

As health care delivery has continued to evolve, many Americans are using nurse practitioners for much of their health care needs, making NPs a critical component of the modern system. This growth in demand and responsibility has also increased and evolved the many risks NPs face in their work environments.

The Nurse Practitioner Claim Report: 4th Edition from CNA and Nurses Service Organization (NSO) took a deeper look at those risks by analyzing 287 closed professional liability claims against nurse practitioners (claims that resulted in an indemnity payment of $10,000 or greater) over a 5-year period.

Five allegation categories accounted for 95% of all the closed claims in the analysis: diagnosis, medication prescribing, treatment and care management, assessment, and scope of practice. A detailed view of the allegations related to medication prescribing/management show that within this category, the top three allegations involved improper prescribing or management of controlled drugs (27.7%), improper management of medication (24.7%), and wrong dose (15.4%).

The following strategies can help nurses reduce the likelihood of drug-related errors:

  • Review current allergy information.
  • Learn about medication allergies, side effects and interactions, including how to screen patients for potential allergic or other adverse reactions, recognize an allergic response, and treat serious reactions.
  • Review previous medication orders alongside new orders and care plans, and resolve any discrepancies each time a patient moves from one care setting to another.
  • Use developed standard order sets to minimize incorrect or incomplete prescribing, standardize patient care, and clarify medication orders.
  • Emphasize the importance of keeping follow-up appointments, especially when the patient is discharged on warfarin or direct oral anticoagulation therapy and there is a transition of care process.

Nationwide, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that overdose deaths related to prescription opioids were five times higher in 2016 than 1999. Nurses can play an important role in reducing these deaths, as well as addiction problems, through their assessments and monitoring of patients.

When prescribing opioid drugs:

  • All patients suffering pain should be given a thorough physical and have a history taken, including an assessment of psychosocial factors and family history. Reevaluate the level of pain and the efficacy of the treatment plan at every visit.
  • Conduct an opioid risk assessment and depression scale test before prescribing opioids and perform periodic screening thereafter.
  • Use an appropriate opioid dose based on patient age and opioid tolerance.

These claims and recommendations demonstrate the importance of the responsibility for properly evaluating each patient prior to prescribing, following up, and documenting the results of appropriate tests and consultations in a timely manner. While rare events may be difficult to prevent, nurse practitioners can glean lessens from the experiences of their colleagues to help enhance their own clinical, patient safety, and risk management practices.


Disclaimer: This article is provided for general informational purposes only and is not intended to provide individualized business, risk management or legal advice.  It is not intended to be a substitute for any professional standards, guidelines or workplace policies related to the subject matter.

This risk management information was provided by Nurses Service Organization (NSO), the nation’s largest provider of nurses’ professional liability insurance coverage for over 550,000 nurses since 1976. Reproduction without permission of the publisher is prohibited. For questions, send an e-mail to [email protected] or call 1-800-247-1500. www.nso.com.

Jennifer Flynn

Jennifer Flynn

Jennifer Flynn, CPHRM, is Risk Manager for Nurses Service Organization in the health care division of Affinity Insurance Services, Inc. specializing in risk management. With more than 16 years’ experience in the health care insurance business, Jennifer is dedicated to educating health care professionals on professional liability risks and offering strategies to mitigate those risks. For more information, please visit www.nso.com.
Jennifer Flynn

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