If you've recently graduated from college and are preparing to take the NCLEX, you may be eagerly anticipating the start of your nursing career. With job openings in the nursing field continuing to grow much more quickly than the average profession, you should essentially be able to write your own ticket—choosing between multiple employers and career paths rather than being restricted with limited options. However, few things have the power to derail or end your burgeoning nursing career more quickly than allegations of malpractice or a patient's malpractice lawsuit naming you as a defendant. Read on to learn more about how you can protect yourself against malpractice liability while facing life and death decisions on nearly a daily basis.
What situations could subject you to malpractice liability as a nurse?
Although many associate medical malpractice lawsuits (and insurance) with surgeons and physicians, nurses can find themselves subject to malpractice liability as well. In fact, because you're often the first (and last) person a patient sees and are responsible for measuring and administering a great deal of medication, your malpractice risk as a nurse may be even higher than that of a doctor.
At its essence, a malpractice claim or lawsuit alleges that someone responsible for patient care acted in a reckless, negligent, or malicious manner—and that this reckless or negligent behavior resulted in physical, emotional, or economic injury to the patient. Malpractice can encompass a wide variety of actions, not all of which are directly related to patient care. For example, you may find yourself on the receiving end of a malpractice complaint if you tend to rant about patients on social media and inadvertently post some identifying personal information about one patient in particular.
Another situation that can sometimes beget malpractice complaints involves the mis-measuring of medication or a failure to check for drug interactions prior to dispensing medication. In carpentry and construction, contractors advise their apprentices to "measure twice, cut once" -- and the same principle holds true when it comes to dispensing medication to patients under your care. Failing to check to see whether new medications have been added to a patient's regimen before dispensing maintenance medications (or mistaking a drug measured in microliters for a drug measured in milliliters) could lead to potentially dangerous or even deadly drug interactions or overdoses.
Finally, malpractice liability may be incurred with breaches of patient health information or failure to obtain informed consent for a procedure. If you provide personal health information to a patient's friends or family members in violation of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), you could be subject to steep civil fines and penalties as well as tort liability for malpractice. By that same measure, signing a form to indicate that a patient consented to a procedure could lead to a malpractice claim if the patient argues that you should have known that he or she was too confused or distressed to understand the gravity of the procedure.
What should you do to insulate yourself from potential malpractice liability?
The simplest and most obvious way to avoid being sued for malpractice is not to commit malpractice in the first place. However, all nurses make mistakes, and there isn't any guarantee that you can't someday be sued no matter how hard you try. However, there are a few steps you can take to minimize the odds that you'll wind up facing a lawsuit, as well as to protect yourself financially if you do find yourself on the receiving end of a malpractice judgment.
The first and most important task is to get into the habit of documentation. By writing down times, dates, dosages, and notes of patient interactions while these events are taking place, you'll have an accurate contemporaneous written record and won't find yourself trying to recreate a crucial event or series of conversations that become mentally fuzzier by the day. You'll also want to take special efforts to brush up on the federal and state healthcare privacy regulations that govern your discussion and use of medical records to avoid an inadvertent violation of these laws.
You may also want to purchase malpractice insurance. This insurance can help protect your personal assets from seizure or forfeiture if a malpractice lawsuit naming you as defendant is successful; in some cases, a malpractice insurance policy may even pay your legal defense fees. To learn more about your legal options, visit resources like http://www.snyderwenner.com.