Malpractice occurs when a professional fails to practice to an expected standard and a patient is injured or harmed as a result. Nurses are held to a certain standard of practice, just as are doctors, lawyers and engineers. Nursing malpractice is the failure of a nurse to act according to the expected standard of practice. Patients often do not realize how much responsibility nurses have for patient care and well being, especially in a hospital or nursing home setting.
In a hospital, it is common practice for a nurse to be assigned specific patients for whom that nurse is responsible until the end of the shift. There are several benefits to this practice. It ensures that the same person is periodically monitoring a patient, making it much more likely that changes in the patient’s health will be noted early. It would be more difficult for nurses to determine if a patient was feeling better or worse if they were basing their assessment on notes made by the last nurse to check on the patient. A nurse’s failure to monitor a patient adequately may result in a nursing malpractice claim.
Having one nurse responsible for each patient is also important when a patient has two or more doctors. It is not uncommon for a patient in hospital to be under the care of both general practitioner and a surgeon or specialist. In such a case, the nurse is responsible for making sure that each doctor knows what the other doctors have done and what medications have been prescribed. The nurse often has the best overall picture of the patient’s care by virtue of having spent the most time with the patient.
In a hospital setting, it is often the nurse’s responsibility to ensure that the patient’s chart is updated as needed. Missing information from a chart can result in easily preventable errors such as overmedicating, mixing medications that cause negative side effects when administered together, and the triggering of allergic reactions.
Another of the nurse’s responsibilities is the administration of medication, treatments and tests. A nurse is expected to exercise proper care in carrying out these tasks to ensure that the proper medication is given in the proper dose. It is also important that tests are administered properly so that accurate results can be provided to the doctor or specialist for analysis.
Hospitals generally have protocols in place for nurses to follow in certain situations. For example, a hospital will have a sequence of steps that they expect a nurse to take if a patient stops breathing. A nurse is expected to know these protocols and to take care in following them in applicable situations. A nurse who fails to follow protocol in an emergency situation may trigger a nursing malpractice claim.
Nursing malpractice might involve any number of acts or omissions on the part of a nurse because the duties of a nurse can vary greatly. When analyzing a medical malpractice claim, it is important to take into account the responsibilities of each member of the health care team, including nurses.