NP’s, PA’s and MD’s alike worry about medical malpractice lawsuits. Despite hard work and good intentions, medical providers make mistakes. Protocols and technology promise to make patients safer and reduce error but no system is foolproof. Just how likely are you as a nurse practitioner to face a medical malpractice lawsuit? How can you reduce your risk?
How Likely are Nurse Practitioners to be Sued?
In 2009, researchers looked back at data from 1991 to 2007 examining the number of medical malpractice claims among various types of medical providers. The study showed that midlevel providers, NP’s and PA’s, have decreased liability compared to physicians. Researchers report “During that period, there was 1 payment for every 2.7 active physicians, 1 for every 32.5 active PA’s and 1 for every 65.8 active and inactive advanced practice nurses. In percentage terms, 37% of physicians, 3.1% of physician assistants and 1.5% of advanced practice nurses would have made a malpractice payment.”
This study is great news for NP’s. It indicates that by hiring nurse practitioners and physician assistants, physicians and hospitals do not increase their liability, a genuine concern among employers.
Why Are Nurse Practitioners Less Likely to be Sued than Physicians?
Experts believe that midlevel providers are less likely to be sued than physicians because they spend more time with their patients. Patients are less likely to file a malpractice claim when they have a relationship with or a positive interaction with their medical provider. NP’s and PA’s are also more likely to take the time to answer their patient’s questions.
How Can You Reduce Your Risk of a Malpractice Lawsuit?
Nurse practitioners and physician assistants are most often sued when they act beyond their defined scope of practice or when they are inadequately supervised by physician. It is imperative that you as a nurse practitioner know you state laws. Be familiar with your legal scope of practice and practice only within these boundaries. Familiarize yourself also with the protocols and regulations within your hospital so you do not overstep these practice guidelines.
If you have a question about a patient or are uncomfortable treating a patient yourself, ask for help from your supervising physician. Even if you do not practice in a setting where collaboration is encouraged, I can assure you that neither you nor your employer wants to face a lawsuit because you were to afraid to seek help. Communication with both your patients and your coworkers is key to avoiding a malpractice claim and delivering safe patient care.
Do you have any tips for avoiding legal complications as a nurse practitioner?