The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts a 31 percent increase in nurse practitioners between 2014 and 2024. With nurse practitioners playing a more active role in our country's medical system, it's important to understand your rights if you believe you've been the victim of medical malpractice.
What Is a Nurse Practitioner?
A nurse practitioner is a type of advanced practice registered nurse who has a master's degree in nursing and specializes in an area such as primary care, oncology, pediatrics, geriatrics, or psychiatric care.
Because of growing pressure from the public to control healthcare costs, nurse practitioners are now handling many of the same functions that doctors once assumed sole responsibility for. Nurse practitioners may educate patients about preventative care, conduct physical exams, order tests, and prescribe medication. In some cases, they serve as the patient's primary healthcare provider.
Can Nurse Practitioners Be Sued for Malpractice?
Like doctors, nurse practitioners can be held liable for malpractice. However, recent studies suggest nurse practitioners have fewer malpractice claims than other medical professionals. In a 15-year study of malpractice claims, 37 percent of physicians were required to make a malpractice payment. In comparison, just 3.1 percent of physician assistants and 1.5 percent of nurse practitioners made malpractice payments over the same period.
Malpractice rates among nurse practitioners vary according to specialty, with pediatric nurse practitioners or neonatal nurse practitioners having the highest number of claims. However, this isn't necessarily a reflection of their skills and is most likely due to the large number of high risk patients they encounter in their practice.
What Actions Constitute Malpractice?
It's important to keep in mind that medical malpractice refers to specific types of misconduct. You can be unhappy with the care you received without your nurse practitioner being guilty of malpractice.
Most malpractice claims against nurse practitioners fall into one of the following categories:
- Failure to diagnose. In this type of malpractice claim, the patient alleges that the nurse practitioner did not correctly diagnose his condition due to factors such as a failure to take a medical history, to perform a complete physical examination, or to order the necessary lab tests.
- Failure to diagnose in a timely fashion. A variation of the failure to diagnose claim, this type of malpractice case alleges the patient suffered harm because of a delay in obtaining the correct diagnosis.
- Failure to treat. Ordering incorrect treatments or refusing to follow accepted protocol for a patient's condition could indicate a nurse practitioner was guilty of malpractice.
- Medication errors. Examples of this type of malpractice could include being given an incorrect medication, receiving the wrong dose, or having a harmful drug interaction due to two medications being improperly prescribed together.
How Do You Prove a Malpractice Claim?
Proving a medical malpractice claim requires establishing four key elements:
- The existence of a patient relationship. You must verify that the nurse practitioner was treating you directly and not simply providing advice in an informal capacity.
- Negligent treatment. Receiving an undesirable outcome is not necessarily negligence. To prove negligence, you must establish that the nurse practitioner's actions were not consistent with accepted standards of care for your condition.
- The nurse practitioner's negligence caused your injury. You are only eligible for malpractice compensation if the nurse practitioner's negligence can be proven as the cause of your injury.
- Specific Damages. You can seek compensation for additional medical bills related to the nurse practitioner’s malpractice, as well as lost wages if you were unable to work because of your injury. Pain and suffering compensation may also be available.
Expert testimony is often crucial to proving the different elements of a medical malpractice case. Your attorney will help you find experts who testify as to how the treatment you received differed from the accepted standard of care for your condition.
Do Doctors Have Shared Liability for Nurse Practitioner Medical Malpractice?
Malpractice cases involving nurse practitioners often have shared liability. If the nurse practitioner is being supervised by a physician, he can legally be sued for malpractice based on the nurse practitioner's actions. Delegating a task to the nurse practitioner doesn't mean the physician has delegated legal responsibility for the patient's care.
How Can I Protect My Rights?
If you believe you've been the victim of a nurse practitioner's medical malpractice, contact the dedicated legal team at Neblett, Beard & Arsenault. We provide a free, no-obligation case review to help you explore your legal options.