As with other professions, nurses also have legal responsibilities they need to be aware of. Nurses can be held legally responsible if they fail to meet certain standards.
As part of their training, Registered Nurses receive instruction in the legal and ethical aspects of their profession. But if you’re a nurse, in order to really protect yourself from legal liability, there are some basic things you should know.
The first thing is making sure you get informed consent signatures from patients for any treatment they are going to receive. Getting an informed consent signature means that the patient understands what is going to be done and any options there may be, has had a chance to ask questions about the treatment, and understands the risks and benefits of the treatment. If the nurse does not make an attempt to get the signature, both the nurse and the healthcare provider he or she works for can be held liable.
It is the nurse’s responsibility to document everything related to the patient’s care, which includes things such as vital signs, medications, specimen collections, and what the patient is doing. If something is not properly documented, noting what was done and when, the nurse could again be held liable if problems arise. If an error is made in the documentation, it is important not to erase or black out anything on the chart, because this could lead to legal complications if something goes wrong. Instead, simply draw a line through the error so that it can still be seen, and note the correction and the cause for the error.
It is important to report any allegations of abuse, whether emotional, sexual, physical or mental. This again could result in legal issues if the nurse has information about it and does not report it.
Patient privacy has also become an important issue in healthcare. Under current law, only certain people can have access to a patient’s chart, and it is important that the nurse safeguard chart privacy. Again, if this legal right to privacy is violated, the nurse may be implicated because the nurse has direct access to the chart.
And finally, it is vital for the nurse not to forget the “five rights” of administering medication — right dose, right drug, right route, right time, right patient. Following these guidelines should prevent any errors in giving medication, which again would open the nurse and institution to legal liability.
These are the minimum guidelines of which all nurses need to be aware. State nursing boards also have guidelines relating to legal issues which nurses also should consult.