The purpose of this paper is to raise awareness on the responsibility of the head nurse in reporting medical error critical incidents. The topic of medical error-critical incident was inspired by the many medical errors in healthcare. Doctors and nurses constantly make mistakes that can be fatal to the patients if not dealt with immediately (Fetherston, 2015). The problem is of concern to many since there are no federal laws on the subject. In 2005, the then-senators Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama introduced the National Medical Errors Disclosure and Compensation Act (MEDiC) that aimed to compel medical professionals to disclose medical errors and compensate the affected patients (Tan, 2015). However, the bill was rejected by the majority of Senators, thereby rendering it useless. Nonetheless, many states have laws on medical errors disclosure and compensation. For example, in 2002, the state of Tennessee enacted the Health Data Reporting Act that requires physicians or facilities to inform patients or their families about medical errors that arise. South Carolina also has the law on medical error disclosure but it only applies to ambulatory surgery centers (Quality and Patient Safety organization, n.d). The decree requires serious incidents to be reported to the next-of-kin of the patient or any other responsible party immediately via telephone and in writing through the Division of Health Licensing within 10 days of the occurrence of the incident. Other states that have similar regulations include Maryland, Connecticut, Florida, Nevada, Oregon, Washington, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey (Quality and Patient Safety organization, n.d). Various states have also passed laws that require facilities and healthcare professionals to apologize to patients and their families for errors committed but such disclosure is not used against the facilities or healthcare professionals responsible.
The targeted health care setting is hospitals and the specific employee group is nurses. The reason for picking nurses as a focus group is due to the role they play in providing health care to patients and how prone they are in making mistakes while discharging their duties. Based on the interviews carried out, it was found out that 17% of the total medical errors are committed by nurses (Fathi et al., 2017). It was also established from the interviews that the most common errors include administering a wrong dose, administering wrong drugs, wrong infusion rate, and administering medication to wrong patients (Fathi et al., 2017). On the other hand, hospitals were selected because most individuals seek medical attention from these facilities. The prevalence of their use for medical services makes them prone to medical errors.
Different nurses have training that allows them to operate in certain areas within healthcare facilities. For example, there are nurses who can administer medication while others care for patients in critical conditions (Edwards, 2019). It is the responsibility of the nurse to ensure that they act within the scope of their training. If a situation that a nurse cannot handle arises, they are supposed to consult a physician or nursing authority to determine what to do. A nurse who fails to observe such procedures may have their nursing license revoked and face a lawsuit, especially if a medical error occurs in the process. The specific statutory requirement that guides nurses in this respect is the Nursing Practice Act (Edwards, 2019). The law highlights the scope and limitations of each nurse level. It also spells out the academic qualifications that one must have to be allowed to operate in a particular nursing role. There are no known real-life legal cases involving nurses performing duties they are not trained for. Moreover, authorities in healthcare facilities assign roles depending on the nurse qualification. Therefore, it is extremely rare to find a nurse performing a duty they are not qualified for.
Another critical responsibility of nurses is to care for patients under them at all times. The professional should ensure that patients have been given the assistance they need at all times. Failure of a nurse to monitor and care for the patient is considered neglect, which is illegal (Edwards, 2019) and can lead to a lawsuit. A nurse found culpable of patient neglect can be charged in the court of law with either a fine or jail term if found guilty. An example of patient neglect case is St. Anthony Medical Center, Inc., v. Ralph Kalember, 45A05-0511-CV-684. In this case, the nurses of St. Anthony Medical Center were accused of negligence, which resulted in the death of a patient named Patricia Kalember. Patricia died on 24 January 1999 after undergoing a knee replacement surgery. Her husband later filed a case indicating that her death was caused by the negligence of doctors and nurses at the facility. In the ruling, the court found that there was enough evidence of negligence against the nurses and ruled in his favor.
Lastly, certified nurses are responsible for administering medication to the patient. In this duty, a nurse must ensure that they administer the medication accurately and timely. The nurse is supposed to interpret the patient’s files and charts to understand them well. Such data allows nurses to determine the compounds that elicit allergic reactions in patients to avoid medications that may have them (Edwards, 2019). Failure to understand the patient files well may make a nurse to administer the wrong medication, which may have serious health outcomes or even death in some instances. While there are many cases of wrong medication by nurses, few have been reported or prosecuted in courts (Edwards, 2019). In addition, the cases are usually launched against the facilities as opposed to individual nurses. Therefore, the chance of a medical professional being held liable for medical errors is unheard of. The lack of liability may make some nurses be negligent subconscious, especially if there are no proper guidelines in the facilities they work in.
Medical errors are a common occurrence in most hospitals. While there are no federal laws that address this problem, many states have enacted legislation that requires disclosure of medical errors. The aim of the laws is to ensure patients affected are compensated or their next of kins. Nurses make some medical errors when they fail in caring for patients, engaging in activities they are not trained for, and administering wrong medication. However, the cases are rare considering nurses are given roles depending on their qualifications as dictated by the Nursing Practice Act. Nonetheless, some nurses have been found negligent but a majority of them are neither fined not jailed. Moreover, the investigations are done on the facilities they work in, which remove any liability on their part.
Edwards, T. (2019). Legal responsibilities of nurses. Retrieved from https://careertrend.com/about-5268859-legal-responsibilities-nurses.html
Fathi, A., Hajizadeh, M., Moradi, K., Zandian, H., Dezhkameh, M., Kazemzadeh, S., & Rezaei, S. (2017). Medication errors among nurses in teaching hospitals in the west of Iran: what we need to know about prevalence, types, and barriers to reporting. Epidemiology and health, 39.
Fetherston, T. (2015). The importance of critical incident reporting–and how to do it. Community eye health, 28(90), 26.
Quality and Patient Safety organization. (n.d). Summary of states’ policy toward disclosure. Retrieved from http://qups.org/med_errors.php?c=state_comparison&t=10
Tan, S.Y. (2015). Patient saferty and tort reform. Retrieved from https://www.mdedge.com/clinicalneurologynews/article/96700/patient-safety-and-tort-reform
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