Q & A Legal Issues with Elizabeth Rudolph
Elizabeth Randolph, JD, MSN, RN
NOTE: The information in this column is not to be construed as legal advice. Please see an attorney if you need legal assistance. This is for informational purposes only.
Q: As a nurse, what is the single, most important legal issue I must be aware of as I take care of my patients?
A: Today’s nurse must manage complex situations both in inpatient and outpatient settings. Add to this the phenomenal advances taking place in technology and the delivery of health care and the nurse takes on an extra, demanding burden. Plus, society expects nurses to be competent, compassionate and available. Although nursing professionals spend years learning their profession and are well trained, they are not prepared for the legal issues they face. Chief among these is being sued for nursing malpractice.
Q: What exactly is nursing malpractice, and how does a nurse get entangled in nursing malpractice?
A: Generally speaking, malpractice may be divided into two major categories:
(1) Negligence, when a nurse fails to exercise that degree of nursing care which would be expected from another nurse in a similar clinical situation, and
(2) Informed Consent, when a nurse fails to adequately inform a patient about the pertinent risks and benefits of a nursing procedure or treatment prior to its performance.
In law, negligence has a special meaning and a much more narrow definition then the general one we often think of, such as neglecting to do a task, job, or procedure correctly.
Informed consent litigation, which occurs less frequently than being sued for negligence, presents special issues of its own, including vagueness of your specific role and the resulting consequence of taking on more than you thought.