According to the National Practitioner Data Bank, an increasing number of nurses are named defendants in malpractice lawsuits (NPDB). For example, from 1998 to 2001, the number of malpractice payments made by nurses increased from 253 to 413. Despite efforts by nursing educators to educate nurses and student nurses about their legal and professional responsibilities and limitations, the trend shows no signs of abating. A charge of negligence against a nurse can result from almost any action or failure to act that causes patient injury—most commonly, an unintentional failure to adhere to a standard of clinical practice—and may result in a malpractice lawsuit.
Several factors have contributed to an increase in nursing malpractice cases.
* Assignment. Nurses are delegating more tasks to unlicensed assistive personnel due to cost-cutting efforts in hospitals and HMOs. According to a facility’s standards of care or a state’s nurse practice act, delegating some of these tasks may be considered negligence.
* Discharged early. Patients are being discharged from hospitals at an earlier stage of recovery and with conditions that necessitate more acute and intensive nursing care. Nurses may be sued if they fail to provide care or make appropriate referrals for the patient’s condition.
* The nursing shortage and hospital downsizing have increased nurses’ workloads, increasing the likelihood of error.
* As technology advances, nurses must be aware of various technologies’ capabilities, limitations, and safety features.
* As hospital nurses’ autonomy and responsibility for advanced nursing skills have increased, so has the risk of error and liability.
* Better-informed consumers are more likely to be aware of malpractice issues and to recognize inadequate or inappropriate care.
* Expanded legal definitions of liability have held all professionals accountable to higher standards. 1 Courts, for example, have held advanced practice nurses to a medical standard of care due to their expanded scope of practice.