Nursing malpractice occurs when a nurse fails to perform his or her medical duties competently and that failure harms the patient. It is true that negligence on part of a nurse can cause serious harm to a patient, but the nurse may not always be at fault.
A number of factors contribute to the quality of care that is provided to patients. For instance, the type of facilities available at the hospital or nursing home, the diagnosis made by the treating doctor, the medical information provided by patients or their families, and so on determine the kind of care to be provided to patients.
However, there may be instances when the nurse might be blamed for someone else’s error. If you’re a nurse and something similar has happened to you, you must proactively try to defend yourself with the help of an experienced attorney.
How Negligence and Malpractice Claims Affect a Nurse’s Career
A nurse is required to adhere to the ‘standards of care’ in nursing. By adhering to the standards of care, the nurse ensures best-quality care for patients and stays away from facing the legal hassles of negligence and malpractice. However, a nurse can be sued even if he/she has complied with the standards of care. If this happens, then the nurse’s career will be in jeopardy. The nurse’s license can also be revoked. A lawsuit brought against a nurse can also wreak emotional havoc and strike a fatal blow to his/her self-confidence and self-esteem.
Moreover, other patients under the care of the same nurse may also be affected severely. Therefore, if you believe that you are wrongfully sued or you were only partly responsible for the harm, then you must work with an experienced lawyer and defend yourself.
Remember, medical malpractice laws are enacted and regulated by individual states, so you must appoint an attorney who is well-versed with the laws in your state. For instance, if you are a nurse in Savannah, then you must work with a Savannah personal injury attorney, who can defend you in court.
Defending Nursing Malpractice Claims
After a lawsuit has been filed against a nurse, various defenses can be raised that can absolve the defendant completely or limit the plaintiff’s claims. Some of the most common defenses used to protect nurses in nursing malpractice cases are:
1. Failure to Prove the Elements of Negligence
Just as in any personal injury case, the plaintiff in a nursing malpractice case is required to prove the four elements of a successful claim. These include:
Duty to the plaintiff
Breach of duty
Damage or injury caused due to the breach of duty and
If the defendant is able to prove that any one or more of the above elements is not established by the plaintiff, the case may be absolved.
2. Contributory Negligence
If you can prove that the patient was also partly or fully responsible for his injuries/harm, then you can get the case absolved or at least lower your penalty. Contributory negligence involves not communicating the medical history adequately, not following instructions, and not following up. The attorney will study the case and analyze the various factors involved to determine the factor that led to the injury/harm. It is for this reason that you are required to provide in-depth information about whatever happened. However, some states have adopted the comparative negligence approach. So, it is important that you work with an experienced attorney, who can help you understand the laws in your state.
3. Violation of Statute of Limitations
Most states have enacted statutes of limitations, which determine the time frame within which a plaintiff is required to file a personal injury case. If the plaintiff fails to file the case within this predetermined time limit, then it can be used as a defense by the defending party. However, several exceptions have been made to the statute of limitations and these vary from state to state. Therefore, only a seasoned attorney can help you understand whether or not you can use this defense.
There can be several other defenses depending upon your specific case. A skilled attorney will look into the case and decide which recourse will be most suitable for you. Remember, you need to provide enough evidence to prove your innocence. Thus, professional assistance is important.
With nursing malpractice claims rising each year, nurses need to become more cautious about their work and the quality of care they provide to the patient. However, in case you are sued by a patient, you have the choice to get legal help and prove your innocence. If you believe you aren’t at fault, then work with an experienced lawyer and get your name cleared.
Every year more than 400,000 serious injury cases are reported in the United States due to clinical malpractice, according to the Journal of Patient Safety. Nurses are an essential part of the health care system and patient support structure; however, given the occupational demands and possibility of errors in records or care methods, they are often subject to legal malpractice suits.
If you are a nurse in the United States, what can you do to help protect yourself against the risk of malpractice? We discuss seven things you need to know to avoid professional or personal liability.
1. Be Present to Your Patient
With hospital and private practice waiting rooms getting more packed, it can seem difficult to give every patient the individual attention that they need. But when patients are lined up, and nurses and health care professionals are attempting to expedite service, mistakes or omissions that may not normally occur can, exposing a nurse to a malpractice suit.
Despite pressures to see as many patients as possible, part of the clinical workflow of a nurse or a licensed vocational nurse is to determine how many patients can be scheduled, and how many can be seen. A symptom missed, or a question that should have been asked about allergies, lifestyle, or health history, can create a serious or even fatal health care error. Be present to each patient and foster a positive, long-term professional relationship with them.
2. Explain Consent and Health Information Exchange
While the benefits of electronic health information exchange are revolutionizing the quality of care that patients receive, sharing and accessing health records (however encrypted and safe the data may be) is still a bit unnerving for the average patient. While electronic health records are far more secure than the historical paper file method (and more accurate), when it comes to personal health conditions, lab results, or health concerns, people like to keep their information under wraps, and cyber theft of patient information is a problem, as are the liabilities for care organizations who access those records.
Even if an individual seems to understand the nature of giving consent for care providers to share electronic health records, it is important to have the patient review and formally sign consent to participate in the local health record exchange. Eventually, all Americans will have the ability to share their results, lifestyle, and health procedural information with care providers, regardless of the state they live in or where they travel to. For now, however, it’s important to carefully review the terms of electronic health records, including how they will be used and who can see them.
3. Engage in Additional Continuing Education Training
The college of nurses for each state provides a minimum number of continuing education training hours required by every nurse, every calendar year. The continuing competency requirement reflects the minimum amount of learning that a nurse should expect to complete in order to remain current with procedures and other changes to the profession.
However, to enhance performance, nurses are recommended to seek more than the basic annual requirement to further their skills, and also to help protect them against the liability of a malpractice suit. A nurse who has engaged in extensive annual continuing education and training is able to defend his or her expertise better in a malpractice suit.
4. Never Wait to Refer a Patient
Emergency room nurses experience this on a frequent basis. When someone appears to be having a mild emergency or uncomfortable symptom, it can be easy to misdiagnose the problem. However, any small delay in seeking a referral to a specialist, or a consultation with a doctor, can place nurses at risk for malpractice, particularly if a symptom was ignored (or misunderstood) and the condition or emergency escalated into a life-threatening circumstance.
5. Remember to Document Thoroughly
The human brain can process and remember from 10 terabytes to more than 100 terabytes of memory. However, when you mix the demand of emergency situations, multiple patients, and long continental shift work, it’s not hard to imagine missing a detail or two on your report.
For nurses, the file and procedural documentation offers an advantage. First, it assists doctors to help determine an accurate diagnosis, allowing them to create a treatment care plan. The second reason is to provide legal documentation regarding methods, observations, tests, and results in the event of a malpractice liability suit. Without the documentation, it can be hard to prove in court that all reasonable measures and investigations were conducted, which is why accurate reports and files are so important for medical professionals.
6. Avoid Talking Shop on Social
Social media is not the place for any medical professional to be sharing about their workplace, the nature of their work, or using patient names or details that are otherwise confidential. Sharing about your day is natural, but sharing health records, patient pictures (without their consent), or clinical observations publicly can land you in court.
7. Measure Twice, Dispense Once
Medications for patients in a hospital or long-term care facility can change on a daily basis. Anything can impact the accuracy of prescription medications, including mislabeled drugs, faulty intravenous equipment, and more. That is why it’s important to double check charts for changes and clarify when prescription medications do not align with other treatments. Nurses are the first line of defense to prevent drug interactions, and they should use extra precaution when dispensing medications.
While it is estimated that nursing malpractice suits account for only 2 to 4% of annual legal problems for hospitals and private clinics, recent shifts in malpractice law mean that patients can receive compensation from doctors and nurses involved in their treatment or care. When malpractice limits or caps have been reached in terms of the doctor’s medical coverage, patients may also be able to pursue compensation for damages through the nurse’s insurer.
Therefore, the best protection is consistent vigilance and adherence to care procedures on a daily basis, helping you avoid legal liability and malpractice suits.
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