Physicians and health care facilities are not the only health care parties that bear responsibility in patient injury cases. When nurses fail to provide a reasonable level of care to patients, they may also face legal consequences.
Nurses owe patients a certain duty of care. While their responsibility does not equal the standard of care expected from physicians, nurses are in professional roles and obligated to act in accordance with their health care duty. When nurses mismanage medications, fail to report certain situations to doctors, or otherwise act negligently, they are engaging in malpractice. If those negligent actions directly or proximally harm patients, the courts may find them liable for the resulting injuries.
In nursing, activities that constitute malpractice include:
- Failure to adequately monitor a patient’s health. Nurses are responsible for assessing patient vital signs and symptoms and notifying a physician if changes occur. Nurses who fail to reasonably notice changes in a patient’s status or to notify a physician in a timely manner of any changes are guilty of negligence.
- Failure to communicate. Nurses must often relay information between physicians and patients. When they fail to communicate all of the relevant information, nurses may contribute to improper care and injuries.
- Improper use of equipment or medication. Medical equipment requires careful monitoring and control. Nurses are responsible for understanding basic functionality, safety features, and measurement readings. When nurses fail to report problems with the equipment or readings to a physician or supervisor or fail to interpret equipment readings in a reasonable manner, they may negatively change a patient’s health outcomes.
- Failure to adequately record health information. Nurses are on the frontlines in a health care setting. They record vital signs, equipment measurements, and patient information for formal medical records. If they forget to document something or improperly document important health information, they may contribute to a misdiagnosis or other adverse health outcome.
- Failure to meet the standard level of nursing care. Like physicians, nurses follow a code they are expected to maintain while engaged in the profession. Any negative consequences that arise because of a nurse’s failure to follow the standard of care are considered acts of negligence.
- Failure to act as an advocate for patients under nursing care. Everyone in the health care industry must consider clinical practice as well as legal and ethical issues. Nurses are responsible for acting as an advocate for patients in certain situations and should understand their ethical obligations while practicing in a health care environment.
If another nurse acting reasonably would have acted differently in the situation, then the nurse in question may have committed an act of nursing malpractice. Although the standards seem straightforward, nurses are rarely sole defendants in malpractice cases. Many nurses are called upon to act in high-stress environments and are not always responsible for their adverse actions. In any malpractice case, the overseeing physician and the health care facility may be financially liable for certain acts of malpractice.
A physician may face liability for nursing malpractice if the physician could have prevented the adverse outcome, or if he or she was present at the time the negligent action took place. A hospital or other health care facility may be liable if the nurse is an employee fulfilling a normal duty under the facility’s policies.
Liability in any medical malpractice case takes time to investigate. If you or a loved one suffered a serious injury because a nurse was careless or negligent, speak with an experienced West Virginia medical malpractice lawyer at Tiano O’Dell, PLLC as soon as possible. Many people interact with patients in health care settings including nurses, equipment technicians, and physicians. Often, more than one person may share responsibility for an outcome. To find out more about nursing malpractice, contact us today.