Nurses are integral members of the health care team and often treat more patients daily than their physician counterparts. And, while most nurses act within the standard of care—and many provide excellent care—some fail to appropriately treat patients, leading to missed diagnosis, injury and in some cases, wrongful death.
A recent study of nursing malpractice showed that nearly $65 million dollars were paid to malpractice victims over a ten-year period on behalf of nurse providers. Because nurses handle many different types illnesses and conditions, their most frequent types of malpractice vary. However, research shows mistakes related to inappropriate nursing diagnosis and treatment top the list. For example, a survey of 364 nursing-related cases filed from 1998 to 2007 discovered that 89 percent of claims involved poor clinical judgment. Common allegations included failure to perform adequate tests and to notify physicians of abnormalities.
Meanwhile, a 2003 study published in the American Journal of Nursing delves deeper into nursing negligence claims. In that study, researchers found the most frequent types of malpractice are:
- Failure to follow standards of care – This refers to a deviation from the standards, policies or rules that dictate reasonable and acceptable patient care. For example, failing to perform a complete admission assessment or design a plan of care.
- Failure to use equipment in a responsible manner – Such negligence is defined as inadequate or improper usage of medical equipment and/or monitoring tools. Examples include not following the manufacturer’s recommendations for operating equipment, failing to check equipment for safety, or improperly placing equipment during treatment.
- Failure to assess and monitor – This could include failing to properly check on a patient and monitor their condition. For instance, failing to complete a shift assessment, ignoring an abnormal finding or misinterpreting a patient’s symptoms.
- Failure to communicate – This could include a lack of communication with other providers, family members or the patient in a timely manner.
- Failure to document – This common form of negligence includes a lack of documentation about a patient, test result or condition in the patient’s record.
- Failure to act as a patient advocate – This refers to failing to look out for the patient’s best interests. Nurses are legally and ethically obligated to act as a patient advocate. Examples could be failing to question discharge orders when a patient’s condition warrants it or not insuring a safe environment for patients.
Patients deserve a safe environment when they visit a doctor’s office, inpatient facility or hospital. They also deserve proper treatment from all health providers they see. Nurses are no exception. Patients who have been harmed by nursing negligence need strong legal advocates.