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When Can Nurses Be Sued for Medical Malpractice?

Anyone who’s been to a hospital or doctor’s office recently will probably attest that they seem to have less time to devote to each patient. That means that the role of nurses has become increasingly significant.

So, if a patient is injured or made ill by something that a nurse did while following a physician’s orders, can the nurse be held legally responsible? In fact, medical malpractice suits against nurses (either individually or as part of a suit against a medical facility) have increased. Just what are a nurse’s responsibilities when given an order by a doctor if he or she disagrees with the order?

Nurses may certainly question an order if they are concerned about it. In some cases, they catch mistakes or know something about the patient that the doctor didn’t. However, they are expected to ultimately follow physicians’ orders regarding patient care unless they believe that an order could harm a patient and/or is clearly wrong.

Just like doctors are expected to provide a standard of care, nurses have a standard of care spelled out by the state nursing board. Any refusal to follow a doctor’s order needs to be based on that standard and the evidence at hand — not just on the nurse’s opinion.

In some cases, doctors ask nurses to perform procedures that should be performed by a physician. Some ask them to enter orders into the computer system when they don’t have the adequate knowledge or information to do so.

When nurses feel that, based on one or more of these circumstances, they can’t comply and can’t change the doctor’s mind, they should contact their supervisor or the nurse in charge. Nurses shouldn’t just say or do nothing if they believe that a patient’s well-being is at risk. Although nurses can be sued for nursing errors, malpractice suits against them often involve something they’ve failed to do, such as failing to:

  • Properly monitor or assess a patient’s condition
  • Report a change in or concern about a patient’s condition to the attending physician
  • Follow the standard of care

When you or a loved one have been injured or worse while under medical care, particularly in a hospital, it can be difficult to know which members of the medical team can be held liable and if the hospital itself can be sued. Experienced Florida medical malpractice lawyers can help sort out the facts.

Source: Ohio.com, “Nurses Following Doctors’ Orders Not Always Easy,” James W. Slater, accessed Feb. 09, 2016

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